Although I am happily retired from the BOE for almost 3 months now, I have been asked by Members of the Igud Hamosdos to clarify some misconceptions about the BOE budget and the “crisis” that has erupted. I would like to preface, that I understand what it means to be a shliach tzibbur in this thankless job and in no way am I making any negative comment about anyone who undertook upon themselves this great Mitzvah to help our precious children and the entire Lakewood. Let me begin with a few facts vs fiction.
Fiction – The current budget does not allocate enough for Transportation, only 16 million vs 19 million last year
Fact – The current budget actually allocates 21,130,000 for transportation which is 1.5 million more than last year. This mistake was first raised in October because the budget line items were inadvertently left in an old format and the new BA at the time did not re-allocate the monies to the correct line item. SO while the Transportation budget had the increase, the extra money was put into Special ed transportation and all that was required was a routine transfer. It was this error that had caused the original “crisis” and it was when this was pointed out that the “crisis” was adverted. It seems that this “crisis” has resurfaced after I left, and I am surprised to see that some District officials are still making this mistake. I offered to provide any assistance necessary to the new Budget chairman when making the new budget as things like this are required knowledge before drafting a budget. I was never taken up on the offer, though. Anyone who wants can see this for themselves on the BOE website, just look at the total allocation for transportation and it is all very clear.
Fiction – The last 3 years the BOE depleted reserves that were there and left the District with no surplus
Fact – Any budget surplus/shortfall that is announced in the middle of a fiscal year is nothing more than a projection. These projections are almost always based on mistaken facts. The only real number is the final audited number released in July of every year, of the exact amount of surplus that was left on June 30th. On June 30th 2010 (right when the “new Board” come in) the surplus was approximately 2.5 million dollars. On June 30th 2013 (the last budget that the new board so through to the end of the year) the surplus was 1.7 million. A reduction of less than a million dollars. Not something that can be blamed for a 9 million dollar increase in taxes!
Fiction – The last 3 years the BOE did not put away enough for savings.
Fact – State law does not allow a District to hold in surplus more than 2% of their budget, in our case a little over 2 million dollars. Any additional surplus MUST be used towards tax relief.
Fiction – The BOE did not tax enough for the current fiscal year.
Fact – As was correctly stated, the law does not allow the District to exceed the 2% cap. Last year we taxed at around 6% using a list of exceptions to that law, not the least of which was the fact that we had not raised taxes in 3 years and we had “banked caps” that were available.
Fiction – The District had unexpected expenses this year.
Fact – While there were some expenses that were for capital improvements, the idea was never for those expenses to come out of the operating budget. It was supposed to be rolled into a 20 year bond issuance which was supposed to go to referendum in January or March of 2014 but never did. By not going to bond, it has caused a shortfall in the budget. The capital improvements were for things like the HVAC system in the High School (about 850k) The new BOE offices in the High School, (about 1.5 mil) deferred payments on debt service (about 1.3 mil) amongst others.
Fiction – The District had a large increase of children this year more than previous years.
Fact – The District has had these increases the last 2 years and the increases were steadily rising each year before that. The way we were able to keep taxes down and services up was by being creative. We attacked the single vendor system and were able to double services with the same amount of money. We merged certain bus routes and were able to offset the increase of student population. We negotiated a 2 year zero increase contract for the teachers union. Amongst other measures. The proposal to save 7 million dollars on courtesy busing encompasses ANYONE who lives within 2 miles of the school even if it means crossing a hazardous road. The amount of courtesy busing for those living under 2 miles and who are not required to cross a hazardous road is less than 500,000 dollars. This rule will affect almost every family in Lakewood either for all or some of their children. In summary, while I expected a severe tax increase (albeit not 9 million dollars worth!), I had thought that there would be some collaboration with the new board so that the Klal would not be hurt. For reasons unbeknownst to me, that has not happened. The damage to our busing has already been done by the mere suggestion, however that damage can be somewhat controlled if it is immediately taken off the table.
There are better ways, the last 3 years are proof of that. Wishing the Board Members much Hatzlacha, Chesky Seitler