Tabernacle school district begins budget talks

Decision has yet to be made on privatizing its paraprofessionals

As the Tabernacle school community continues to protest the potential privatization of the district’s paraprofessionals, the school board is tasked with making a tight budget work.

As part of scheduled cuts, the district will lose nearly $700,000 in state funding for the 2021-’22 school year, meaning Tabernacle schools must find a way to pay istaff, keep us maintenance on buildings and cover day-to-day expenses with less revenue than in previous years.

“This (cut) is not something small; this is a large chunk of the budget,” said Patricia Palmieri, school business administrator. “This is constantly on everyone’s minds whenever we’re doing anything.”

The district also has to make room for a mandatory $93,000 cost for health care, a new requirement from the state. Palmieri said school officials are seeking new ways to bring in revenue to offset the costs covered by taxpayers.

“Nothing’s off the table and nothing’s outside the box,” she noted.

The district will also incorporate $75,000 of maintenance reserves funds, something board member Brian Lepsis said helped avoid cutting more from the budget.

The district estimated there will be more than $14 million in expenses for 2021-’22, a number similar to 2020-’21 that would be paid for by just over $5 million in revenue and more than $8 million in taxes.

“Our district has been very prudent and made some very tough decisions,” said Superintendent Shaun Banin.

A decision has not yet been made about paraprofessionals, positions the school board is considering privatizing to save money. Several teachers spoke at the March 15 board meeting, reading letters written by parents concerned about losing their children’s paraprofessionals.

“The paras are familiar with our children’s needs, wants and limitations,” said teacher Jodi Mundy, reading a letter from parent Debbie Snodgrass. “If you take that away, God knows how this will affect them. How would you feel if this was happening to your children? I know you wouldn’t stand by and let it happen.”

The board unanimously voted to send a first draft of the budget to the Burlington County Executive Superintendent, but changes can be made through the public hearing on April 26.

Also at the meeting, Banin confirmed that the district is no longer pursuing the use of STOPit, an app that students can use to anonymously report safety, mental-health and bullying concerns.

“We actually decided to stop moving forward in that direction and pursuing that app at this time, based on the feedback we had from a number of our families,” Banin explained.

The board and members of the public raised concerns about the app’s security and the potential for abuse at previous meetings.

The next board of education meeting is scheduled for April 26 at 7 p.m.