When the Cherry Hill Board of Education meeting hit the five-hour meeting mark on Tuesday, March 9, the board did so without passing a preliminary budget despite the imminent March 22 deadline.
The budget was a contentious subject at the session, with board members ultimately asking the administration to find a compromise between the two budgets put forth that evening. One called for no tax increase while the other proposed a 1.09 percent tax increase. Board members asked the district to come up with something in between.
Given that the board must submit a preliminary budget to the county by March 22, the board will call a special meeting on Tuesday, March 16, when administrators will return with their revised proposed budget.
As presented on March 9, the 1.09 percent tax increase would have owners with the average assessed home value of $225,437 paying approximately $56 more in taxes a year. Following a discussion with the budget and finance committee, administrators were asked to also present a 0 percent tax increase budget. But that would mean cutting approximately $1.9 million from the plan.
Lynn Shugars, assistant superintendent and business/board secretary, said the cuts would include new funding requests for e-sports, robotics and unified sports; maintenance equipment, including things like HVAC upgrades and flooring replacement; and upgrades to technology equipment.
Board member Ruth Schultz stressed she thought it would not be fiscally responsible for the board to push through a budget with no tax increase, and students have been asking for robotics and e-sports. She said the $56 increase breaks down to about $5 a month for the average homeowner in Cherry Hill.
“That $1.9 million dollars means more to us as a district than that $5 to the average homeowner,” Schultz said.
Board member Rosy Arroyo asked that the board refrain from using language like “just $5.”
“While it may not impact everybody like it impacts some of us or none of us, there is still some form of impact,” Arroyo said.
Board member Correin Elmore-Stratton said she feared that deferring some of the projects could potentially mean a larger tax increase for Cherry Hill residents in the future. She doesn’t want $5 this year to turn into $50 in following years because it was decided to forgo a tax increase this year.
“I encourage everybody to think long term,” she said. “We might have to ask families to do this two times because we didn’t ask them to do anything this year.”
Board member Ben Ovadia said he feared residents may actually be in for a more difficult year next year than this one when the moratorium on evictions and other COVID aid expires. He asked board members to bear that in mind.
Ultimately, board member Carol Matlack suggested that since some members are not comfortable with a tax increase, while others are worried about cutting programs, the two sides need to meet in the middle.
“I would suggest that we ask administration to come up with a budget in between those two,” she said.
The board will hold a special meeting on Tuesday, March 16, when the administration will return with the revised preliminary budget.