The Millburn Board of Education on Monday night began the long process of setting its budget and the tax rate for next year.
Superintendent James Crisfield made his initial budget presentation with a broad overview in the form of a power point at the board’s meeting, reminding board members and the public that there will be lots of details and specifics on proposed expenditures in the weeks ahead.
Expenditures for the 2011-2012 were $76.5 million, which equaled revenues, and the initial projection for expenditures for 2012-2013 is $77.5 million for a 1.34 percent increase, Crisfield said.
Although there is still no contract with teachers, Crisfield predicted that personnel costs would increase from $48.9 million to $50.1 million or 2.58 percent.
But, he said, the district should see a savings in costs for health benefits, which should decrease by 10 percent, from $14 million to $12.5 million.
Among the big projects for next year will be improving technology because the school system’s server and WiFi are woefully inadequate, he said.
“We need to do something about technology,” he said. “We live in the 21st Century. We should teaching there and using the technology there too.”
Another area of expense will be capital improvement projects, such as repairing roofs and refurbishing the Middle School Auditorium – finally.
“It’s past time,” he said. “In my way of thinking, it’s overdue. We are not going to talk about it or keep thinking about it, this year we’re actually going to do it.”
The district will also do it in such a way as to preserve “every bit of the ornate design and not take away from the history of it,” Crisfield said. To which Board member Regina Truitt, who has been working for years as a parent to get the auditorium restored, quipped, “minus the flying birds.”
Some residents questioned the expenditures and the excess surplus, which had gotten as high as $4 million in 2010-2011 and is now proposed to be at $2 million.
Crisfield said the board had been “drawing down” the surplus gradually over the last two years and that a $2 million surplus on a close to $80 million budget is reasonable.
Resident Jeff Diecidue said, “I don’t know how you can even think about raising taxes at all when we have any kind of surplus. We should be tightening our belts, cutting taxes not raising them.”
But the board did not talk about taxes, and board member Lise Chapman reminded the public that the board is in the very preliminary stages of the budget process no one should take the numbers as the end product.
“The tax rate matters. It really matters,” Chapman said. “We understand that. We get it.”
Board president Michael Birnberg said Crisfield and Business Administrator Steve DiGeronimo present the numbers and what they think is appropriate for the district. Then “there’s a lot give and take before we decide,” he said.
The public will have an opportunity to hear more at a special Sunday afternoon meeting on Jan. 29th at 2 p.m. at the High School as well as at every meeting between now and March, when they vote on the budget and set the tax rate.
Check back for updates and more news out of the school board meeting.