The poor economy’s effect on Verona schools’ bottom line is coming into focus, and one thing is clear: It’s going to be painful.
On Thursday, Governor Chris Christie unveiled the state’s new austerity budget for the present year, which includes a freeze on payments to school districts. “It’s still preliminary, but the freeze has the potential net impact of a loss of approximately $54,000 to our district this year,” said Verona Schools Superintendent Charles Sampson in an email to MyVeronaNJ on Friday. “Although Verona doesn’t receive significant state aid, any restrictions on an already tight budget will have a negative impact on our programs. We are preparing for the worst.” (Verona is not alone in its worries; according to Baristanet, Bloomfield, Glen Ridge and Montclair are bracing for cuts as well.)
Even before Governor Christie’s announcement of the freeze to the state’s current-year budget, Board of Education members were expressing concern about next year’s budget numbers. When the 2011 state budget is unveiled on March 16, school districts will find out what the state-mandated spending cap will be, and whether they will receive any state aid and, if so, how much. The Verona board’s finance committee has a list of potential cuts ready, based on various scenarios.
If the spending cap is 5%, “we’ll be okay,” said Board member Joseph Bellino at Tuesday’s Board of Education meeting. But that’s unlikely, since the cap is now set at 4%, and there’s widespread speculation that it will be reduced to 3% or possibly even lower. As Bellino explained, a 3% cap means “we are looking at rather drastic cuts.”
In addition, there’s the looming possibility that state aid to Verona will be reduced or even eliminated. This year, $200,000. of extraordinary state aid has been built into the budget.
One scenario the district is looking at is a loss of $500,000. “That’s dire straits,” said Bellino. “It will impact the classroom. None of it is easy.”
A letter from Mr. Sampson’s office went out to parents of public school children on Friday, inviting them to the board’s budget meetings scheduled for March 2, 16, and 30. We’ll post reminders, along with the time and place of the meetings, on the MyVeronaNJ calendar.