With 4.5 percent as the , the Board of Education met for a workshop on Tuesday to discuss what it wanted to cut from its proposed 2012-13 budget to meet that goal.
As soon as the meeting convened, Superintendent John Tindall-Gibson laid a proposal out on the table of areas that were recommended spending hikes in next year's budget, but would have to be shed to accomodate the 4.5 percent increase:
- Eliminate the $616,000 line item toward the purchase of new tablet computers or iPads for students.
- Eliminate all $707,000 in requested funding for multiple new positions, including an assistant business manager, music teacher and part-time police officer at .
- Close Central Avenue School and relocate the students to other K-4 buildings, saving $927,232.
- Shutter Prospect Street School and move the Head Start and pre-school program elsewhere, saving $557,000.
If those eliminations and closures went into effect, then the 2012-13 budget would come in at $59.6 million, which is 4.5 percent increase, or $2.6 million, above the 2011-12 budget.
The education board has until April 30, which is the date when it has to present its complete recommended budget to the Board of Finance and Board of Mayor and Burgesses.
Some Board Members Suggest Closing Salem Over Central
Closing both of the above K-4 school buildings, , is not the first choice for the board members. Some have repeatedly said that "no one" wants to close a neighborhood school.
But many of them have conceded it’ll likely have to be done to accommodate other budget increases, namely salaries and benefits, while at the same time taking into account the needs of the taxpayers.
“If that’s the case, I don’t see how we can get to that 4.5 percent without closing the schools we looked at,” said board Chairman David Heller.
But, there were at least two education board members — Diana Malone and James Scully — who spoke out, suggesting instead the district look at closing over Central Avenue.
Many members of the public, namely Central Avenue parents, , asking why the board didn't consider Salem instead. The school was previously on the chopping block during budget talks back in 2009.
“I won’t vote for a budget that includes closing Central Avenue School… even if I’m the only one voting ‘no,’” Malone said. “I am voting with my conscious from now on.”
Scully, who acts as chairman of the board’s facilities subcommittee, said “if it were up to me Salem would go first.” Both Scully and Malone cited the fact that Salem has some handicapped compliance issues, and is a much older school than Central Avenue.
But Tindall-Gibson noted that all of the schools have some issues with regard to handicapped accessibility.
Assistant Superintendent Brigette Crispino has said closing Central Avenue would be the . The elementary school students could easily be reassigned to other K-4 schools in the borough.
Regardless, the board members asked Crispino to present some numbers as to what effect closing Salem would have on the reassignment of students.
Examining the Health Insurance
Mayor Robert Mezzo said he agreed there was argument in having to close a school to address the budget hikes, but he said he wanted the board to take a look at one other area before moving forward on any school closures: health insurance.
Costing over $10 million in the 2011-12 school year, health insurance amounts to 21.59 percent of the proposed 2012-13 budget, the second-largest expenditure after employee salaries.
Mezzo said the borough is currently looking into changing the insurance carrier for the school district due to the potential increase in costs from its current provider, CIGNA.
Right now, the projected insurance spending increase from the 2011-12 budget to the current one is $760,200. But, Mezzo said the borough will try to get an updated estimate on what the potential figures for next year could be.