WOODBINE - The school district is getting a part-time state monitor for at least one year, primarily to oversee fiscal operations, including a more than $700,000 deficit.
James Riehman, who also served as the state monitor in Pleasantville, was introduced to the school board at a meeting Tuesday.
Riehman will spend a few days in the district during the next few weeks but will be away all of February on a trip planned before his appointment. He will communicate with the district while away and will begin a more aggressive schedule when he returns in March.
State Education Commissioner Chris Cerf notified the district Jan. 8 that Riehman would be appointed. He will be paid $93 per hour for the one-year period but could be reappointed as determined by the commissioner. His salary is paid by the district.
Glenn Forney, of the Office of Budget Review and State Monitors, said Riehman will likely log more hours early as he familiarizes himself with the district, while his time will taper off as the year progresses. He said Riehman should not work more than 30 hours in a given week and will likely work only a few hours per week once a plan is in place.
State law allows the Department of Education to appoint a state monitor based on the district audit, or Comprehensive Annual Financial Report. Woodbine was cited for fiscal problems, including a budget deficit of more than $700,000, school Business Administrator Alan Parmelee said. He said other problems include purchase orders that were written after an item was purchased.
Riehman's specific duties will include improving the financial operations of the business office, oversight of budget preparations, correcting all findings in the audit, reviewing internal controls and ensuring the development of a corrective action pan.
Riehman said he expects to have an action plan before the Board of Education by its budgetary meeting in March. This plan will include recommendations on reductions, cuts and fundraising. He also plans to pursue state aid and grants.
The state law and his contract also give the monitor power to oversee all staffing, with the ability to hire, promote and terminate employees. The monitor also has the authority to override actions by the school superintendent or the school board on financial and personnel matters. That issue contributed to a contentious relationship with state monitors in Pleasantville.
Woodbine School Superintendent Lynda Anderson-Towns issued a statement saying she looked forward to working with the monitor.
"We see it as a short-lived intervention to rebuild our small, rural district's financial foundation," she said in a statement. She cited several improvements that already have been made, including the addition of state-funded, full-day preschool and improved state school test scores.
But, she said, the increased cost of insurance, rising tuition for high school students who attend Millville High School, and other expenses have exceeded expectations.
Anderson-Towns said by phone that they have already reduced the deficit by about $240,000, but still have a deficit of more than $735,000. She said asking for a loan from the state might be an option.
"We just need time," she said.
In August, the state approved allowing Woodbine high school students to attend Middle Township High School rather than Millville High School, which will save the district about $4,000 per student in tuition costs. But only freshmen are attending Middle Township this year, while the upperclassmen finish out their time in Millville. Tuition makes up about $1.4 million of the budget. Estimated savings when all students are at Middle would be about $200,000.
The district had also hoped to generate revenue by selling solar energy credits generated by solar panels installed with a new roof in 2009. But the cost of the credits has dropped dramatically, from $640 when the panels were installed to about $140.
The 2 percent cap on property-tax levies has also limited how much the small district can raise in additional taxes, since 1 cent on the property-tax rate raises only $17,000.
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