VTSD sends preliminary budget to county

| 20 Mar 2019 | 11:57

    The Vernon Township School District Board of Education voted on Thursday, March 14, to advance the tentative 2019-20 budget to the Sussex County Dept. of Education for approval
    The vote passed by a 7-2 margin with school board President Brad Sparta and school board member Kelly Mitchell voting against it.
    “I told (Superintendent) Karen (D’Avino) that I rarely support the budget,” Sparta said. “I always think there are things you can do to make it more efficient. This time is no different.”
    The budget calls for a $4.04 million increase in the tax levy. However, under state law the district can only raise the levy by 2 percent of last year’s levy, a total of about $764,000.
    The district came under the 2 percent threshold for the past three budgets, and has banked a total of about $3.7 million during that time, including $2.64 million in the 2016-17 school year.
    However, to make up for the shortfall, the district, as of March 14, will also have to exhaust about $547,000 from 2017-18 and about $114 from 2018-19, leaving only $328,000 for the upcoming 2020-21 budget when the district is facing even further state aid cuts.
    The current plan calls for about a 10.57 percent increase in the tax levy.
    The biggest cut in the budget came from about $2.77 million in savings from 18 retirements that will not be replaced and non-renewed employees.
    However, the overall budget will still increase and that left some board members questioning.
    School board Vice President Lauren Karwoski Magee asked why the levy was increasing by so much with the cuts they’ve been making while Mitchell asked why they were only able to come up with $360,000 in cuts.
    Business Administrator Stephen Kepnes said the two obvious pieces are the decrease in the district’s fund balance and the decrease in state aid.
    “We had expenses that are beyond our control that went up significantly,” school board member Justin Annunziata said. “It took the combination of cuts to our budget and tax levy increase to balance it.”
    Sparta expressed concern about dipping into years 2 and 3 of the bank cap to balance next year when there will continue to be decreases in state aid over next several years.
    Overall, the district is scheduled to see a $10 million decrease in state aid over the next six years.
    "One of the concerns that's gotten a little more prevalent as time goes on is using year 2 and year 3 of the bank cap,” Sparta said. “I think that's dangerous in light of what we're facing."
    The budget the district voted to send to the county was only a preliminary budget and there could still be changes before the May 1 deadline. Those changes could increase or decrease the levy.
    Magee said while they must use the $2.6 million that’s expiring, she would like to see the budget further reduced until they are not tapping into year 2 or 3 of the bank cap.