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Howell school board adjusts budget following reduction in state aid

HOWELL – The Howell K-8 School District Board of Education is using a combination of additional revenue and budget reductions to account for an unexpected decrease in the amount of state aid to be received for the 2018-19 school year.

Under the initial funding proposal outlined by Gov. Phil Murphy in March, Howell was scheduled to receive $33.54 million in state aid for the upcoming school year. Using that number, the board and administration crafted and adopted a $123.8 million budget.

In July, after negotiating changes in New Jersey’s school funding law with leaders in the state Legislature, Murphy issued revised state aid amounts. Howell saw a reduction of $913,973 in its state aid, to $32.63 million. School boards and administrators were given until July 31 to account for the reduced aid from Trenton.

During a special meeting on July 25, the board made a series of revenue adjustments and appropriation adjustments to account for the $913,973 loss.

The revenue adjustments account for $675,000. Funds from the maintenance reserve ($500,000), extraordinary aid ($50,000), miscellaneous ($50,000) and interest on investments ($75,000) will be added to the budget, according to the board.

The appropriation adjustments account for $238,973 and include items removed from the budget. Assistant Superintendent for Business Administration Ron Sanasac said the appropriation adjustments come from small reductions in multiple line items. He said no programs are being eliminated.

For Howell, this is the first year of what is expected to be a seven-year reduction in the district’s state aid. Over seven years, “We are looking at in excess of over $10 million” in lost state aid, board President Tim O’Brien said.

O’Brien said it is the board’s responsibility to draft a budget “that reflects our goals and aspirations for education of our children.” He said board members are not afraid to spend money where it is needed and to invest in the children, but he said they also recognize the value.

“Unfortunately, due to the changes imposed on us at the last minute by the administration in Trenton, we are now forced to deal with a significant cut to a budget that has already been struck and planned for. However, this board is well prepared,” O’Brien said.

He said board members will have to make tough choices now and in the future.

“We have always put the needs of our children first and we will continue to do so. We will make the difficult choices that we need to make, but the good news is that because we have taken proactive steps over the last 10 years to prepare for just this scenario, we are in a better position than I feel many other districts are in, and we are ready to meet the challenge,” O’Brien said.

Board member Al Miller said that between 2018-19 and 2024-25, Howell expects to see its state aid reduced from $33 million to $22 million. He said the $22 million the district is scheduled to receive in 2024-25 will be less than the district received in 2009.

O’Brien said planning for the future has given the board some flexibility.

Sanasac agreed with that assessment and said it is important to note the work of the board and various committees that have built flexibility into the budget. He said that work has prepared the district for “bigger cuts to come.”

“At the end of the day, this board, this administration and everyone recognizes that our mission is to protect the quality of education,” O’Brien said.

When it came time to take action, O’Brien, Miller, Laurence Gurman, Denise Lowe, MaryRose Malley, Jennifer Okerson, Cristy Mangano and Ira Thor voted to authorize the revised budget.

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