School Budget Shortfall Increases to $1 Million

Deficit more than doubles from original estimate of $500K earlier this month.

New figures available from the School District of the Chathams reveal the budget deficit is more than $1 million, or double the original estimation presented at the on Feb. 7 of $500,000.

"We didn't have all of the personnel discussions worked into that [number from Feb. 7]," Alan Routh, the chairman of the budget advisory committee, said Tuesday.

The precise amount of the shortfall is $1,030,604, assuming state aid does not decrease from what it was last year. If that $408,719 is taken away completely, the budget shortfall increases to$1,439,323.

Gov. Chris Christie is scheduled to make his budget proposal in a speech on Feb. 22. The district will learn withn 48 hours of the speech what it state aid will be.

School Superintendent Jim O'Neill said that in past years, residents of Chatham have been willing to increase their taxes to pay for any programs and services that would otherwise have been cut from the district due to budget concerns. When the state cut $2.58 million in state aid to the district last year, or 86.3 percent of the total aid given in 2009-10, residents absorbed the cost.

With the new 2 percent cap increase imposed by Christie this year, "That's all we can go to," O'Neill said. "Once we get to that number, if we wanted to add anything and the board was pursuaded to add something, we'd have to reduce something else."

The 2 percent cap amounts to an increase of $1,031,195 of revenues for the budget generated from the local tax levy for an increase of $52,590,951 for the 2011-12 school year, according to a presentation made Tuesday night.

Unless the shortfall can be fixed by cutting other funds in that amount of $1,030,604, the district will have to add a second question to the ballot on the school budget to make up for the shortfall.

Before the school elections in April, the Board of Education must send its proposed budget, including any second question, to Morris County Executive Superintendent Kathleen Serafino. Serafino can make line-item cuts and tell the district where it is spending too much for certain programs.

The district will learn how much aid it will get from the state by Feb. 24. The next board meeting is on Feb. 28, which will be the first time the detailed proposed budget will be available to the public. At that meeting, members of the public will be able to give the board their opinions on whether there should be a second question on the ballot.

Board members and O'Neill said they welcomed any comment from the public before that meeting.

The budget must be sent to Serafino's office by March 4. Another open Budget Advisory Committee meeting will be held on March 22 at 7 p.m., and a public hearing will be held on the budget at the Board of Education meeting on March 28.

April 6 is the last day to register to vote for school elections. Residents who wish to vote using a mail-in ballot, which is available through the Morris County Clerk's office, must send in their requests by April 20. The application can be picked up in person until April 26 at 3 p.m.

School elections will be April 27 from 2 until 9 p.m. at Chatham Middle School's upper gymnasium for borough residents and at Gymnasium C at Chatham High School for township residents.

One spot is open on the Board of Education for a borough representative. Another township spot may open up. Anyone wishing to run for the Board of Education can pick up a packet from the district office in the .

James Raleigh February 16, 2011 at 10:22 PM
cut cut cut
Ron Swanson February 17, 2011 at 05:08 PM
I agree with the need to cut, but it won't happen. The Board will skirt the 2% cap by charging activity fees for everything, which are simply taxes by another name.


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