Less aid won’t cause bulge in Chatham budget

CHATHAM — Schools Superintendent Cheryl Nuciforo addressed budget issues and state aid cuts at Tuesday night’s school board meeting, reporting that the district expects to lose $751,414 in government aid in the next school year. But Ms. Nuciforo told the board that losing that aid would have little or no effect on the district’s 2011-12 operating budget. She also talked about keeping the tax increase for next year’s school budget at 2%, in line with the governor’s proposed property tax cap.

Ms. Nuciforo opened the February 8 meeting with a discussion of sewer issues at the middle school, where last week students had to leave the Woodbridge Avenue building due to a frozen sewer line. She said the snowy weather slowed down the repairs.

“After figuring out the toilet-to-student ratio,” she said, they moved about 300 students back to the school and left 5th grade in the elementary school all week. She praised the teachers and staff for keeping program running. “By everybody pitching in, it turned out as well as it did,” she said.

In the discussion of state aid, Ms. Nuciforo said of the anticipated $751,414 reduction, $317,184 is money the district received in federal economic stimulus aid. The district used that part of last year’s federal aid for a capital project, and did not apply stimulus funds to recurring expenses in the general fund, knowing the district would not see a similar aid payment the next fiscal year.

The district also received $265,481 from the federal jobs bill, another economic aid package that Washington will not offer this year. The jobs money was allotted in last year’s budget but can’t be used until the 2011-12 school year, which starts this summer. Ms. Nuciforo said the district must look carefully at how to use the money to fund a position for which there will not be continuing federal support in the future.

“That’s over $500,000 of the $700,000 (in cuts),” she told the board, none of which would affect the school district’s general operating budget. She said administration officials are still working with the state aid projections for the coming year, but she plans to keep her proposal for a school district tax increase at 2% in the 2011-12 school budget. She also talked about some relief from state mandates that might make its way through the legislature in Albany, and she mentioned funds available through management efficiency awards and performance incentives.

The board is preparing next year’s school budget by looking first at the spending by all departments. At Tuesday’s meeting school officials turned first to food service and to equipment replacement requests from buildings and grounds. They also talked about having services traditionally supported by fundraising now become part of the budget. Ms. Nuciforo recommended that the new budget support curricular field trips, staff for dramatic productions, and chairs and decorations for high school graduation. She presented the cost of those programs to the board, which would add less than $15,000 when ticket revenues from performances are included.

Buildings and grounds director Steve Nieto gave the board a list of equipment needing replacement over the next five years or sooner. He said the two utility trucks used for hauling and plowing are 27 years old and need to be replaced. The district also has two mowers that he said need to be replaced. Ms. Nuciforo told the board that this was a jumping off point and Mr. Nieto had been collecting this information since last spring so the board can consider an equipment replacement plan in the budget.

The board approved a motion to hire a consultant to perform a facilities study. District officials can now start the search for an outside organization to look at the school buildings and their use, which could lead to a recommendation that the district close one of its three schools.

The district is moving ahead with the budget process without a business administrator after Diane Malecki resigned last month. Ms. Nuciforo said the district is considering whether to hire an interim business administrator.

The board will hold another budget workshop meeting March 1 at 6:30 in the high school library. For more information go to the district newly designed website, www.chathamcentralschools.com. The new site was launched at the end of January.

To contact reporter Emilia Teasdale email .

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