In their enthusiasm to save taxpayers money and significantly reduce the impact of the proposed $122 million 2009-2010 school budget, the Board of School Estimate nearly cut too much.
In a marathon session, the Board of School Estimate heard additional public comments and then made recommendations for cutting the budget at a hearing on April 8.
“We can make the budget the same as last year, but state law prohibits us from spending less than we did last year.” – Schools Business Administrator Clifford Doll
“We can make the budget the same as last year, but state law prohibits us from spending less than we did last year,” said School Business Administrator Clifford Doll.
As a result, the board reconfigured its cuts so that the 2009-2010 budget would have no increase for the taxpayers, although the budget could rise as a result of increased revenues from the state.
Faced with a $4.2 million increase that taxpayers would have to account for above the amount covered by state and revenue, the Board of School Estimate cut more than $41 million in addition to $2.3 million the Board of Education cut prior to passing the original budget in February.
The cuts reduce the total needed to be raised from taxes from just over $60 million to about $57 million.
As proposed, the cuts do not call for layoffs, although Doll said it is possible that salaries might be reduced by not filling positions when people retire or filling positions with people earning less.
One big caveat, however, is the recommendation that the school district employees be shifted from their current health coverage program to a state program, which currently covers police and firefighters.
Alan D’Angelo, president of the Bayonne Teachers’ Association, said the matter would wind up in court if the board tried to make the change since the original health provider is part of a collective bargaining agreement.
Smith, the chairman of the Board of School Estimate, proposed that the BOE go with the state's School Employee Benefits Program, saving more than $3 million.
The City of Bayonne switched its uniformed services to the state plan in 1999, after the city briefly explored self-insurance. Currently, the school district covers itself in a modified plan that is administered by Horizon Blue Cross/Blue Shield, which is expected to rise to $16 million in the upcoming year. A switch to the state plan would cost the district about $13 million.
Chiappone said he was disappointed with the threat of legal action, hoping that the unions would work together with the administration to resolve the issue.
Currently, the school district pays $18,500 for each teacher who has full family coverage. Teachers do not contribute to their own health plan. The recommended change would save taxpayers about $3.5 million per year.
In school districts where there is no elected board, a Board of School Estimate acts as a kind of watch dog, reviewing the budget and making recommended cuts. This board includes two councilmen, the mayor, the Board of Education president and a Board of Education member.
The Board of School Estimate can impose overall cuts, but can only recommend areas of the budget that the funding can be drawn from.
The budget goes back to the Board of Education, where the actual cuts will be made.
Board of Education President Will Lawson, however, cautioned parents not to hold out hope for the Vroom School pre-school or the gifted and talented program at P.S. No. 14, since the board has yet to determine where the cuts will be made.
The two programs would cost the district about $240,000 if restored to the budget.
Schools Superintendent Dr. Patricia McGeehan, Assistant Superintendent Dr. Ellen O’Connor, and others have agreed to decline raises this year for a savings of about $15,000.