The Board of Education of the School District of the Chathams took no action on an additional $517,006 in state aid awarded last week at their Monday night meeting.
Board Member Matthew Gilfillan, the head of the Facilities and Finance Committee, along with Assistant Superintendent Michael LaSusa and new Business Administrator Peter Daquila, said that it would be better to put the additional aid toward the 2012-13 budget, since there was no guarantee of how much state aid the district could get next year.
Gilfillan said that the Facilities and Finance Committee met just before the 7:30 p.m. board meeting and discussed "three different avenues" for using the money.
The first option was to put the money toward the operation of the district, or toward a particular class or program which may have been cut in the recent past. Gilfillan said the board opted not to do this, in keeping with protocol set by past boards, because there would be no guarantee that the program funded with this money would be able to continue in future years "due to the fact that we can't confirm that [the aid] is going to be recurring."
The second option was to use the aid to provide budget relief to the taxpayers. Should the entire amount go toward this purpose, Gilfillan said it would provide between $50 and $70 per taxpayer this year. To do this for the upcoming 2011-12 academic year, the district would have to provide an updated budget to the municipalities and the county superintendent by Tuesday, July 19.
Th third option was to put the funds toward capital projects and the capital reserve, which the district is dipping into this year to pay for several projects, including:
- a partial roof replacement at Lafayette Avenue School,
- an upgrade to some space adjacent to the auditorium at Chatham Middle School that will provide three additional classrooms, and
- an additional four classrooms at Chatham High School, along with lockers and an expansion of the parking lot.
"We believe, in looking at it right now, it's in our best interest ... to utilize this toward next year's budget, and possibly in a different number of ways," Gilfillan said.
The committee's recommendation to the board not to put the money toward the 2011-12 year budget, Gilfillan said, is because the district would have to present an adjusted budget to Chatham Borough, Chatham Township and the Executive County Superintendent no later than Tuesday.
"We didn't feel that we had enough time," Gilfillan said.
LaSusa said that he knew of several nearby districts who did not have the advantage of a meeting scheduled before the deadline, and found it impossible to draw a quorum and put out an agenda within the required 48 hours in advance of the meeting. An "overwhelming" number of districts, he said, would have to put the additional aid toward the 2012-13 budget by default because of the short notice.
Gilfillan also said that the money could be divided up and "used in a number of different ways," that it was not necessary to put the entire amount toward one purpose.
Tax relief in the 2012-13 academic year was certainly one option, Gilfillan said, as well as capital funds and reserves. "We just have to make the decision [for next year] before putting the budget together," Daquila said.
He cautioned, however, against using it toward operational purposes in case the funds were to become unavailable in later years. "We don't want to be in a position where we [reinstate a program] and have to cut it in the next year just because the funds aren't here," Gilfillan said.
"We have anecdotal evidence as to what the mindset of the state is going to be, as to whether this [aid] will be recurring going forward," he said. "We're very hesitant to add anything from an operating perspective ... and then have to take it back again."
State aid, Gilfillan said, will come in monthly installments throughout the academic year. When the district chooses to utilize the additional $517,006, that amount will be rolled into the aid already coming into the district.
With the additional aid announced last week, the School District of the Chathams remains at less than 60 percent of its aid level compared to 2009, before the state slashed $2.58 million in aid funds.