Budget process underway

By ROBERT LINNEHAN | The Cherry Hill Sun

It’s a new year and another budget season is looming for the Cherry Hill Board of Education. The school district has already scheduled three special budgetary meetings to keep township taxpayers up to speed during the annual process.

The first special budget meeting has been scheduled for 7:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Jan. 19, at the district’s administration building.

Superintendent David Campbell announced that the district’s audit found no glaring problems in its financial activity from the 2008–2009 school year. The district’s bond rating was also upgraded, he said, which is another good sign for the district’s financial situation.

However, Campbell said a spending freeze has been initiated for the current school year, aside from purchases of day-to-day supplies. This was also done last year, he said, which enabled the district to employ a substantial surplus to the 2009–2010 budget.

“We were able to reserve $5 million from the 2008–2009 budget to support this year’s budget,” Campbell said. “The amount that we will be able to reserve for next year is likely to be cut in half, despite our having already implemented a spending freeze last month.”

Unfortunately, Campbell said the $1.4 million in federal stimulus funding the district received last year will most likely not be granted for the 2010–2011 budget. The funds will likely not be available given the widening budget deficits at both the state and federal levels, he said.

Another big challenge facing the district this year, Campbell said, was Gov. Corzine’s recent proposal to close the state’s widening budget gap by requiring school districts to use their audited excess fund balances to offset mid-year cuts in state aid.

“This proposal would require legislative action and we are lobbying against it. However, if enacted, it will significantly reduce the $3.5 million in excess surplus we had earmarked for taxpayer relief in 2010–2011,” Campbell said.

Last year the board of education stated its goal of a flat tax levy. The board of education members reached their goal and approved a budget with a tax rate of $3.19 per every $100 of assessed property value. According to Business Administrator Jim Devereaux, the average assessed home of $140,000 paid about $4,468 in school taxes.

To reach the flat tax levy, board of education members approved a reduction of the equivalent of 63.2 full time employees, for a total savings of $3.8 million.

The board of education members also threatened to cut the Mt. Misery program from the district’s curriculum, which was saved at the last minute after 47 residents protested at the budget’s public hearing.

The program was reduced to four days and three nights for the 2009–2010 school year.

For more information on the budget and up to date information on the process, please visit the school district’s Web site at chclc.org.