$1B Newark School Budget Gets Green Light
Advisory board votes 6-3 in support of budget
Newark Public School district's $1 billion budget is on its way to the state for approval following a 6-3 vote by the school advisory board Thursday night at Central High School.
The budget, the majority of which is comprised of state aid, for the state-run district was saddled by a $36.3 million gap as a result of ballooning costs and a drop in revenue, in part, due to declining enrollment, according to Photeine Anagnostopoulos, Newark Public Schools' chief executive for finance and administrative operations.
Twelve percent ($109 million) of the budget is made up of the local tax levy for 2012-13, a $2.2 million increase from the year before.
Anagnostopoulos' PowerPoint presentation detailed costs, including a $31 million increase in charter funding to the state and $15 million jump in health benefits, as well as cuts in aid, like the loss of the one-time $22 million federal EduJobs grant and a slight decrease in state aid, which totaled $716 million for next year.
But despite the revenue cuts and increase in costs, "we're still able to balance our budget and maintain a prudent financial situation," she said.
Antoinette Baskerville-Richardson, Alturrick Kenney and Marques-Aquil Lewis voted against the budget. The two-hour hearing, attended by no more than 70 people, comes on the heels of news of Gov. Chris Christie's proposed changes to the school funding formula, which would reduce aid to schools with the highest-need students.
NPS appealed the county superintendent to give $148 million in state funding for charter schools next school year, $17 million less than it was originally expected to pay, said Anagnostopoulos. New Jersey is anticipating a 41 percent jump in charter school enrollment, but NPS was authorized to budget for 25 percent.
Kenney questioned what the district would do if the 41 percent enrollment projection is realized down the road.
"The last few years it has always come in under what the state projection was," said Anagnostopoulos. "Rather than take that money out of our schools up front … we have decided to actually look at the forecast and not take out that full amount of projection because we don't, based on history, think that will occur."
The budget gap was plugged by $7.9 million in appropriated funds and $21.9 million in state aid restored to the district through a New Jersey Supreme Court ruling in 2011. Other cost savings include shaving $5.5 million in Central Office positions and cutting $3.9 million in substitute costs. NPS teachers are entitled to 14 sick days a year, which the administration is looking to scale back to 10.
Less than three percent, or $9.6 million, was cut from the $360 million schools' costs, which will be divvied up as schools' individual budget that is overseen and allocated by the principal.
But the cut, coupled with declining enrollment and decreases at Central Office, has bumped the cost-per-pupil $662 to $18,000 next year, according to Anagnostopoulos, meaning more money will be headed to the classroom next year.
"As we've done these reductions, we've reduced significantly more outside the schools rather than inside the schools and that has meant we've had relatively more (money) going into the classroom," Anagnostopoulos said.
Enrollment dropped nine percent in grades 9 through 12 and three percent in kindergarten through eighth grade last year to a total of about 36,000 students.
Superintendent Cami Anderson's "expanded options" plan, under which several public schools will close and consolidate in September, the district will earn an average savings of $5.5 million a year, Anagnostopoulos said.
When asked whether the district could afford to incur the cost of unplaced teachers as a result of the plan, she said there is about $3.5 million left over from the $12 million already budgeted for Employees Without Placement Sites, or EWPS, to accommodate any excess positions.
On average, 200 teacher positions free up annually from retirements and resignations and it's likely those voids will be filled by the 50 or so positions that may be lost through closures and consolidations. EWPS, or "the excess pool," is currently made up of 82 staff members, according to Anagnostopoulos.
"This is a year we really have to tighten our balance because we really don't have the room and, going into next year, we're going to be looking at where we need to cut further," she said of the $56 million budget gap the district is already anticipating for 2013-14.
The budget presentation will be available on the NPS website.