Increase in State Aid Surprises Local Districts
The bump in the payout formula has left room for maintenance projects and class size relief.
When the state aid figures were released on Feb. 23, no one was more surprised than the region's schools districts, which all saw an increase in aid over last year.
"We were told to expect what we had last year," said Mary Jane Canose, the business administrator for the Chester Consolidated District. "Plus to factor in the additional money we received last July. That was the number we were told to expect."
Chester will receive $1,017,492 for the coming year, a 16.2 percent hike over 2011-12. The fact that the number was significantly higher underscores how difficult planning a budget can be.
"State aid is a hard thing to factor in to any sort of planning," said Chris Emigholz, director of legal affairs at the Department of Education. "State aid is a fluid thing and we probably wish it wasn’t quite as fluid, we probably wish it wasn’t as reliant on things like the economy and the politics in Trenton."
Mendham Township schools received additional $107,211 which equates to a 37 percent increase for 2012-2013.
"We were not expecting a number as high. We thought it would be less than that," said Mendham Township Business Administrator Debbie Muscara. "This won't change the tax levy, it will stay at 0 percent."
In nearby Mendham Borough, the district got an additional $52,524, ringing up a 2012-2013 grand total of $237,375. For the regional district, aid came in the form of $4,369,441, a 7.7-percent increase over last year’s $4,056,834. The 2011-12 state aid was originally $3,598,240, but the unexpected $458,594 of aid was given to the district in July, which the board decided to use toward class size relief and save for the 2012-13 school year. Of the additional monies the district received in July, $274,304 was reserved to use toward the next year’s budget. That brings the total additional funds to $586,911.
The district’s business administrator, Doug Pechenac, said the big strategy is to alleviate class size in both schools by putting additional funds toward adding a sixth period to teacher’s schedules.
“Rather than adding personnel, we can pay teachers more to instruct an extra class period,” Pechenac said. “Class size has been an issue since we had such a large teacher reduction a few years ago.”
Pechenac said the board’s finance committee was currently in the position of working toward the 2-percent tax levy cap during the budget creation process, and the additional funds will most certainly help keep that figure down.
“We can do a lot of things with the money,” Pechenac said. “I’m certainly not complaining about it.”
Another option on the table in the K-8 is stepping up some long languishing maintenance projects. "We have nearly $100,000 more than we expected and we’re going to use that money for a roof repair project in the Dickerson School," Canose said. "We were hoping we could find a way to get it done and it looks as if we have."
And if more aid is unexpectedly handed out in July, the Chester Consolidated district will be ready. "I keep a running list of projects," Canose said. "If more comes, we'll have use for it."