A state-appointed monitor has overturned the Pleasantville Board of Education’s decisions to retain several supervisor positions and reject a financial audit of the district.
At a regular meeting Dec. 11, the board voted on two budget items, one of which proposed eliminating five supervisors, or department heads, in the district, and another that was an audit predicting a deficit at the end of the school year. As a warning to the school district, an auditor reporting his findings to the Board of Education last week said they may be facing a deficit by the end of the budget year.
“I just wanted to make sure they didn’t get blind-sided,” said Robert Swartz, with Ford-Scott and Associates, this week.
But the board rejected the report at the Dec. 11 meeting, and the recommendations that came with it, along with the elimination of supervisors. The state monitor, James Riehman, overturned the decisions after the meeting, as he has done in the past with issues that are related to fiscal management of the district.
About half a million dollars will be saved by removing the five supervisor salaries from the district’s budget.
The unexpected expense of mold remediation just before school began this fall, which was partially a pre-existing condition, paired with a broader climate-induced incident that also affected other school districts in the county, cost the district an unbudgeted $1.2 million, board member Joanne Famularo said.
Swartz said his concern came from seeing the unexpected expenses combined with the lack of revenue. If the trend continues, the operational budget may need more cuts, which is hard to do in a school system, he said.
The board also is involved in various lawsuits that could increase the likelihood of a deficit, Swartz said, but the numbers were not in yet so it was hard to say.
“It is a big business where the product is education, and the major cost is salaries,” Swartz said. He said the salaries drive the budget, making up about 70 percent.
Famularo said that in comparison with other districts of similar size, Pleasantville is clearly over-staffed.
“We have more than 700 employees and 3,500 kids,” she said. Neighboring Egg Harbor Township has about twice the student population and a 9-to-1 ratio, she said, and Pleasantville’s ratio is about 5-to-1.
“We are fortunate because other school districts have to cut back because they don’t have money, but we haven’t yet,” Famularo said.
Five supervisors were notified a week before the meeting Dec. 11. They were told they were allowed to return to a teaching position, effective Feb. 11, 2013. The same night, the school board approved hiring additional maintenance staff for the swimming pool.
The decision to hire pool staff came after the district took on hosting a new swim club this year, Superintendent Garnell Bailey said at the meeting. She explained this week that based on the legislation that governs the monitor’s authority in the school district, he is allowed to overturn the board’s decision on items relating to the fiscal management of the district.
Famularo spoke out at the meeting, admonishing the state monitor for not watching the budget more closely.
“If I came to your house and was supposed to watch your budget, but at the end of the month you were a couple hundred in the hole, I’m not doing my job, am I?” she said in a phone interview Wednesday.
Famularo said that the district is funded 80 percent by the state. “Someone should know what’s going on,” she said.
Riehman told the board at the meeting he would start to give reports regularly, but Famularo said he should have been doing so for the past three years.
“I don’t understand the concept,” she said. “I don’t think we should be hiring when we are firing.”
Swartz said that the district is putting less money back into the budget each year, and he is concerned with future state aid. Because of the costly effects of Hurricane Sandy, he imagines the state will be looking for places to cut expenses, and warned the board they may see a decrease in state funding next year. At the same time, he said, there is a cap on the increase of taxes levied by the district, so they cannot necessarily rely on that avenue to make up the difference.
“If they do not find areas to take care of the unanticipated costs, the budget will not be sustainable,” Swartz said.
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