PLEASANTVILLE — The school district will face another tough budget year due to salary increases coupled with state aid losses, auditor Mike Garcia of Ford Scott Associates told the school board Tuesday.
“You’ve generated less excess surplus, which means your next budget is going to be very difficult dealing with $2 million less in your surplus account. Add to that reduced state aid, your ’19-20 budget is going to be difficult,” Garcia said.
The Pleasantville School District was hit two years ago with a state aid loss of nearly $900,000 and was further impacted by cuts last year. In response, the district has made staff and program cuts, including a large reduction in force in September approved after the state notified the district it had a deficit of $1.5 million in its budget.
Business Administrator Elisha Thompkins said Tuesday part of the issue in the upcoming budget is a result of salary increases approved last year as part of the Pleasantville Education Association’s contract. The union, which covers teachers and support staff, had been working without a contract for almost two years until that point.
The audit presentation was one of only a few items approved on a lengthy agenda during a contentious, five-hour meeting marred by arguments over board procedures, information dissemination and board subcommittees.
Garcia presented to the board at the start of the meeting following an hour-long executive session. Last year, the district passed a $64.6 million budget for 2018-19 that used $3 million in funding from surplus. He said next year’s budget will have a third of the available surplus.
“That’s what’s driving the difficulties in that budget is the fact that there is less excess surplus in 2018 compared to 2017,” he said.
Despite the looming financial struggle, Garcia noted the district had only one finding in its 2018 audit: a deficit in the food service budget, which is a carryover from previous years.
According to Garcia, the deficit stands at $384,000. Thompkins said it is much less than the $1.9 million deficit that came about in 2006 due to a change in budget rules requiring salaries and health benefits for cafeteria workers to come from the food budget and not the general fund.
He said that is when the district privatized.
Garcia said that for the past few years, the cafeteria generated a surplus, which chipped away at the deficit, but that last year, the program broke even.
“You served fewer lunches, and your federal (reimbursement) was down,” Garcia told the board. “In a nutshell, we are recommending again that you do something to address the food service fund deficit.”
He suggested figuring out a way to increase student meal participation.
Thompkins said the school board has approved participation in the universal free breakfast program through the federal government, so that might increase federal subsidies. He said the district is aware of the problem.
“There are things that we are working on to improve that,” he said.
No new facilities coordinator
Board members Jerome Page, Richard Norris, Sharnell Morgan and Cassandra Clements blocked several agenda items from passing, citing a lack of information shared by board leadership with new members. Page and Norris said they hadn’t received any committee assignments so they felt uncomfortable approving many spending items.
One of those items was the appointment of Beville Tyson at a prorated annual salary of $100,000 to the position of coordinator of facilities, a position created in December after the retirement of William “Speedy” Marsh, who earned $138,145 a year. Tyson, who was already employed by the school district, has been acting as the facilities coordinator since Marsh’s departure as part of the September reduction in force. At that time, Superintendent Clarence Alston said Thompkins would oversee maintenance.
In October, Marsh was back on the agenda to be approved for retirement.
At its Dec. 11 meeting, the school board approved a new job description and posting for facilities coordinator, as well as a revised organizational chart. Under that chart, Assistant Business Administrator Daile White was listed as overseeing Tyson as the head of facilities/maintenance and custodian services.
The new job description for facilities coordinator includes a requirement for a New Jersey Certified Educational Facilities Management Certificate. The New Jersey Office of School Facilities confirmed Tyson has an active certification, issued Oct. 22, 2018, that expires three years from that date.
Tyson also holds other positions in the district. At its reorganization meeting in January, board members approved his reappointment as the district’s interim right-to-know officer, interim AHERA coordinator, and interim chemical hygiene officer coordinator, all ending Dec. 31.
According to state records, as of September, Tyson earned a salary of $66,907 and has been enrolled in the state pension system since 2010.