District faced with ‘difficult decisions’ surrounding 2020 budget

According to Superintendent Scott McCartney, the Moorestown school district each year has to find new ways to maintain programming while staying within the state’s budgetary parameters, and this year is no exception. 

“We find ourselves every year at the beginning of the budget process well in excess of what we’re allowed to develop or grow the budget,” McCartney said.

As it begins the budget development process, the district finds itself $2.4 million over its  allowable growth. McCartney said district officials are in the process of examining every aspect of  operations to see where cuts can be made.

Business Administrator and Board Secretary James Heiser said when the district made its  first pass at compiling the budget, there were $5.4 million in expenditure requests throughout the system. To date, that figure has been reduced to $2.4 million.

The district currently stands to have $74.6 in projected revenues and $77 million in proposed expenditures. 

Heiser said the state mandates the budget can only grow by 2 percent, which equates to around $1.3 million in allowable growth this year. Under the 2020-2021 budget, the increased cost of salaries and benefits alone will exceed that allowable growth.

During the 2019-2020 school year, the district budgeted around $45 million in salaries. In 2020-2021, it projects a $1.5 million increase in salaries, or approximately $46.8 million of the budget.

The district does not currently know how much it will receive in state funding, so it is budgeting conservatively. In the last few years, however, the system has received more  funding: Under the 2019-2020 budget, Moorestown received $197,000 in additional funds.

According to McCartney, the hope is that since district enrollment has continued to climb, the schools will see a similar increase in funding this year. 

Because the district has done capital improvement projects every three to five years, the  capital reserve has dwindled. McCartney said the district arrived at a point where it had to cut capital requests to just the necessities. 

McCartney added that in the event a piece of equipment breaks down or one of the district’s facilities needs major improvements, it would be a challenge for the system to find the funds. Many of the cuts already made to the budget were capital improvement items.

“Our philosophy is, you start with things before we look at programs and before we look at people in the district,” the superintendent said. 

McCartney’s directions to everyone involved in the budgetary process are that every aspect of the district’s operations have to be examined and explored to find efficiencies or reductions. 

“As much as it pains me to say it, we will have to make difficult decisions to do things differently,” McCartney noted. “Our hope is to maintain the supports and services and programs that we offer our kids, but they may look different than what they looked like even just this year or in the past.”

Both McCartney and Heiser emphasized the budget is still very much fluid, with McCartney adding that the district hasn’t made final decisions on reductions. When it does, those decisions will be shared with the public during each month’s budget reporting. 

The board of educations will be asked to approve the budget for submission to the county at its next meeting on Tuesday, March 17, at 7 p.m. in William Allen Middle School.