After five years of line-by-line cuts to help sustain and maintain programs in Linwood schools, the district announced it may have to resort to cuts in staffing to offset a $468,000 shortfall this year.

A preliminary discussion of the budget took place last week at a Board of School Estimates meeting at Belhaven Avenue School, but the board has yet to receive a formal budget.

To maintain current programs, the school needs about $14.2 million. The 2 percent cap on tax levy increases set by the state will only permit the district to budget $13.7 million. This total, the net permissible budget, is less than a 1 percent increase from last year’s budget, which was about $13.5 million.

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The reason is a $9 million drop in the city’s ratables base, to $779.2 million, schools Business Administrator Teri Weeks said.

Superintendent Tom Baruffi said reviewing and cutting the budget line by line is not enough anymore.

“We have been doing that for the past five years. And now it's time to look at positions,” he told an audience of at least 50 people at the board meeting last week, which included City Council and school board members.

Five positions may be eliminated: three full-time and two part-time, Baruffi said in an email Monday.

Councilman Darren Matik said if the property values had not decreased so significantly, “we would not be having this conversation.”

But numbers are still tentative, because the amount from state aid is unknown, Weeks said. The state will announce total aid at the end of February. In the recent past, state aid has been less than $2 million.

Currently, the total surplus in this year’s budget is more than $580,000 and could potentially offset some of the cuts, Baruffi said. “But it would be so irresponsible of us” to spend from the balance right now.

Unaffected by the cuts will be several capital improvement projects ranging between $175,000 to $250,000.

“I know it’s hard to understand. How can you cut a teacher, yet you can fix a bathroom?” said Baruffi, who defended the projects as necessary.

The district is seeking to replace and improve the public announcement systems in the elementary and middle school, as well as the air quality system in one school to prevent mold issues.

“We had two neighboring districts that went through a terrible mold remediation issue,” Baruffi said. “We want to make sure we are on top of those things.”

Other improvement projects include the 50-year-old bathrooms and roof repairs.

Another issue that will need to be addressed is property owned by the district for a Poplar Avenue School, Baruffi said.

With the continuous decline in enrollment numbers since 2005, Baruffi said it is unlikely that a new school will be needed.

“We have held on to Poplar Avenue for a long time,” Baruffi said. “Realistically, we’ve been saying that for 14 years now. We are not going to need that building in the next five years.”

These numbers are still pending review and approval by the board.

A meeting will take place at 5 p.m. Feb. 13 at Belhaven Avenue School to review the official budget. A tentative budget is expected to be adopted March 6.

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