The district’s board of education held its April 27 meeting via Zoom video conference to adopt the 2020-2021 budget. A raise in taxes exceeds the 2 percent cap, as the district utilized banked cap to balance the budget.
Banked cap had been created as the district failed to hit the 2 percent cap in years past.
A home in Tabernacle with an average assessed value of $265,357 will see an annual increase of $85.42. Banked cap was estimated to be around $78,000.
Business Administrator Jessica DeWysockie explained that the district saw a shortfall in its state funding, losing $605,127 this school year. The COVID-19 pandemic, which has kept schools closed since March 16, was expected to bring additional financial challenges to the district.
“I have been in discussions with my colleagues on if there will be an additional loss due to COVID-19, and we haven’t gotten any clarification on that,” DeWysockie said.
Transportation costs increased by $20,001 as the district added a bus run for the Shamong Township School District.
Miscellaneous increased as the district switched from TD Bank to Republic Bank and received interest among others.
Revenue was reduced by $302,111 compared to last year because of the loss in state funding.
A copy of the presentation and the adopted $14,492,902 budget can be accessed by visiting TabSchools.org.
Expenditures remain frozen for any non-essential spending, as directed by Interim Superintendent Tom Christensen. One exception is the result of contractually-obligated costs in benefits and salaries.
“We saw an increase in our special education,” DeWysockie noted. “We have three additional people who will be going out of the district.”
Parents can seek an out-of-district placement for a child with special needs if the district has exhausted its resources and support. Out-of-district placements are typically to a private institution, and the child’s home school district must cover the outstanding tuition and transportation costs, per state law.
Following parent Kate Smith’s question during public comment, Supervisor of Special Services Nanci Moore explained that students who remained in the district received the same services. No reduction had been made to the department despite the loss of staff last year.
During the budget’s public hearing, parent Jennifer Herpen and teacher’s union Co-President Tom Crilley inquired if other options had been explored to save jobs that the board intended not to renew.
“We have received some letters with regards to the non-renewals, and we appreciate you writing on behalf of the teachers,” said Board President Megan Chamberlain. “Non-renewals never have been, or ever will be, taken lightly.
“We have complete faith in our administration to make educated recommendations when it comes to staffing for our schools with the necessary staff.”
Other board members spoke up to clarify that the board’s change in stance on “saving as many jobs as possible,” was due to the unexpected additional loss in state funding. The board had previously projected a loss of about $520,000; actual loss is $605,127. Revisions in the cuts prompted the district to have its finance committee and administration team discuss how to deal with the loss, including not renewing two positions.
Resignations were accepted during the meeting as Christensen thanked Donna O’Malley (school secretary), Roberta Tursi (music teacher) and Dian Lewis (teacher) for their years of service to the district and students.
More retirements are anticipated. Christensen said if they come in time — without forcing the union to persuade unnamed employees to retire sooner — the non-renewed positions could come back.
Reductions in staff were also made by way of attrition in several departments. The now-empty principal and superintendent positions were petitioned to the state to be converted in one position, saving administrative costs. Two full-time equivalent custodian positions — the result of retirements — will not be filled.
Teacher Steven Cramer inquired during the hearing if the closure of schools had saved money; DeWysockie said she would not have numbers on that issue until the end of May.
Board member Gail Corey inquired if it would be equitable for the district to refinance its bonds; DeWysockie is awaiting direction from the district’s financial advisor on that issue.
Tabernacle has money set aside in capital reserve and maintenance reserve accounts, but it can only be used for projects that fall into those categories. Capital reserve, DeWysockie explained, can only be used for the district’s long-range facilities plan.
“I’m always a huge proponent of putting money into the capital reserve and maintenance reserve accounts in the event something happens, and we need to be able to take money out of those accounts and either do projects or fix something if it breaks,” she noted. “We usually get the approval to put money into these reserve accounts in June.”
DeWysockie, who has resigned her position, was thanked by the board for completion of the budget. The next board meeting will have Bruce Benedetti, interim school business administrator, at the helm. His term ends June 30 as the board continues searching for a permanent administrator.
The May 4 session will be virtual and will begin at 4 p.m. Instructions to join the meeting are available on TabSchools.org.