Vernon school board takes an early look at district budget

Vernon. The interim business administrator is projecting a nearly 14 percent drop in the tuition the district pays other schools. Savings are also being found in moving from private insurance to state health benefits and in the transportation budget.

| 12 Feb 2021 | 09:14

The Vernon Township Board of Education has started looking at the 2021-22 budget. It’s found some savings but will not look at the revenue side until a future meeting.

Donna Risse, the interim business administrator, said on Jan. 28 that she is projecting, as of now, a nearly 14 percent drop in the tuition the district pays other schools – like Sussex County Technical School and Sussex Charter School for Technology.

Risse said out-of-district tuition amounts to about $2.2 million, about $400,000 in savings.

“That can change at a moment’s notice,” said Assistant Superintendent Charles McKay.

Risse said because children can move into the district at any point in the year, she budgeted some wiggle room into the tuition appropriations.

Currently, the district pays $240,000 for 104 students to attend Sussex Tech, but $662,000 for 37 students to attend Sussex Charter.

“Every student we retain at the middle school level can save us tens of thousands,” said Justin Annunziata, the school board president.

The district also found some savings by moving from private insurance to the State Health benefits, which help knocked that cost down by nearly 8 percent.

The district also found savings in the transportation budget. Risse said because of the Covid-19 pandemic, the district didn’t spend a lot of money on school trips or an extended school year. Regular transportation rates were negotiated to about a 10 percent reduction, saving the district about $602,000.

“Savings came from the elimination of some routes, and some routes were combined,” Risse said. “There could potentially be even more limited routes.”

Superintendent Karen D’Avino said officials worry about the length of the bus commutes for students because of how much the bus routes were tightened.

“This is really great news,” said board of education member Joe Sweeney.

Risse said she asked schools to reduce their supply budgets by 10 percent. That change was retained throughout the budget, although some of the supply lines were filled with placeholders and still need to be filled in, she said.

If state aid doesn’t come through in the amount the district expects, it could initiate a supply spending freeze for a savings of about $1 million in office supplies.

“The last time we went through this when the state shorted us $1 million, we went to the folks to ask them what to cut out,” McKay said.

Annunziata asked school board members to bring their thoughts about how much they want the budget to the next budget meeting. He also asked Risse to bring revenue projections.

“Figure out what it will take to get to a ‘yes’ vote and what our goals are during the budget season,” Annunziata said. “The sooner we identify those, the smoother the budget process goes and the more effective we can be.”