The Verona Board of Education passed a tentative budget for the 2013-2014 school year last night that calls for a 2.5% tax levy increase, or roughly $136 more per household annually.
The budget approved last night is for $30,158,641 overall, with a tax levy–that is the part we will actually fund from property taxes–of $28,496,254. (The difference is the paltry amount of state aid we get for education.) For 2012-2013, Verona had an overall budget of $29,599,478, with a tax levy of $27,801,223. School spending had risen 1.89% in 2012-2013 from the previous year.
The BOE approves a tentative budget to give county and state education officials an indication of what it thinks school spending might be in the coming year. It could change before it is approved.
While the budget’s tax levy increase is more than 2%, it is not over the 2% cap imposed by Gov. Chris Christie because part of the budget funding is coming from waiver dollars that Trenton is sending our way. The state government issues waivers based on several categories of expenses, principally the ever-rising cost of healthcare. Verona, which gets back only three cents of every property tax dollar it now sends to Trenton, cannot simply plead poverty and request waiver dollars. The state reviews the school district’s budget and sends a waiver it deems appropriate–or none at all.
But getting a waiver is a two-edged sword: While the monies may help school districts cope with high expenses, the cost must be passed on to taxpayers. School boards can elect to “bank” some of the waiver monies for up to three years. Waivers cannot be refunded to taxpayers if they are not spent.
Here’s how the waivers have played out in Verona. Last year, Trenton granted us $488,521 in waivers. But Verona elected to use only $99,000 of what we were granted and put $389,521 into the so-called bank. This year, Verona is using $139,077 of those funds, raising our tax levy by 0.5% to 2.5%. If Verona had elected to spend a full percentage point more for the 2013-2014 budget–raising its levy to 3%–the cost to taxpayers would have been roughly $165 extra.
The extra waiver spending does not put us over the 2% tax levy cap imposed by Trenton last year; waivers do not count against the cap. In January 2012, the governor approved a law ending a public vote on school budgets that are within a 2% cap.
Instead, the BOE is leaving $250,444 in the cap bank for the future. Verona was given another waiver this year of $139,367 that is has also banked, giving us a total of $389,811 in reserve.
In banking the extra, the BOE seems to be trying to hedge the sharp decline in state aid to Verona, which is down 50% from just three years ago. The governor just awarded $4,309,191 more to Essex County as part of the $87 million extra in state aid that he touted in his budget address. But the bulk of that went to the so-called Abbott districts. Verona received nothing additional.
The 2013-2014 budget is not set in stone. At its next meeting on Tuesday, March 12, the BOE will explain what the new budget includes and cuts, and possibly show us what might be possible if we were to accept a higher increase. That meeting will be held at 8 p.m. in the Media Center at Verona High School.
What do Verona Educators make?
Steve, while anyone can use the database housed at the Asbury Park Press to look at teacher, administrator and police salaries in Verona, the numbers don’t mean much in isolation. You’d have to compare them against schools or town similar to us. A $133,000 salary for an administrator may be more than some people in Verona make yearly now, but it may not be more that a similar administrator in a similar town. It also may not be an unreasonable salary for someone who has 32 years of experience. If anybody has the time to do this analysis, please let me know.