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LAKEWOOD – After initially rejecting a $ 204 million budget proposal because it includes a request for a $ 61 million loan from the state, the Board of Education reluctantly changed its mind on Wednesday night and approved the introduction of the spending plan which will increase the average tax bill by approximately $ 100 per year.

The vote was 5-0, with four board members absent.

The final vote followed a first unanimous rejection by the board of directors whose members were concerned about the amount of the loan.

“You assume that we are going to get what we want,” said Meir Grunhut, board member. “How long is this loan going to last?”

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His objections and those of other board members stemmed from the fact that the loan would bring the district state’s total repayment debt to over $ 139 million, including $ 80 million in past loans.

The loan is part of a general fund budget plan of $ 204.2 million that includes a tax levy of $ 105.8 million. That would represent an increase in the tax rate of 2.9%, which would represent an average of about $ 100 for a home valued at $ 332,000, according to district tax coordinator Robert S. Finger.

The proposal is an increase from the 2019-2020 budget of $ 171 million which included a state loan of $ 36 million and a tax levy of $ 102 million.

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Finger’s budget presentation included no layoffs, full funding for after-school programs, script preparation and new textbooks for Social Studies, English as a Second Language, Maths and Spanish as well as 200 new iPads for kindergarten and first grade students.

It represents an 18% budget increase over last year and includes an extraordinary increase in aid from $ 5.5 million to $ 7.9 million, or 41%, but also an increase in repayments of State aid loans from $ 1.2 million to $ 8.6 million, an increase of $ 7.4 million.

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In addition, charter school costs increased by $ 1.2 million and salaries increased by $ 5.1 million.

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But after the board initially rejected the spending plan, a lengthy discussion ensued with Finger, with council attorney Michael Inzelbuch and state comptroller David Shafter urging board members to approve. the budget or to face the legal consequences of the state.

“You have to have a budget for the review,” Inzelbuch said. “I’m legally concerned if there isn’t something for the county to review.”

Finger stressed that approval of the budget introduction does not mean council gives final approval to the spending plan, pointing out that the public hearing and final vote are set for May 7. But Inzelbuch said the council must submit an introductory budget to the county superintendent. before March 20.

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Shafter, who had the option of overriding the board and submitting the budget, chose not to.

“I suggest you do your homework and approve a budget,” he said. “In my opinion, the Board of Education should approve something tonight.”

The cash-strapped district recently learned it would receive a 0.5% increase in state aid to $ 23.47 million, $ 119,302 more than the current year.

Asked by the board of directors if they think the state would accept the $ 61 million loan, Shafter said, “I’m going to review the budget with the county and the state, and we’ll see what happens. “

The board ultimately voted to submit the preliminary budget after Shafter agreed to review it and offer his perspective at the next board meeting on March 31.

Last month, Gov. Phil Murphy announced that $ 50 million in additional “one-time” “stabilization assistance” would be made available to school districts hit hard by ongoing budget cuts. The administration did not disclose how these funds would be provided except to say that districts could apply for the money.

Joe Strupp is an award-winning journalist with 30 years of experience covering education and Monmouth County for and Asbury Park Press. He is also the author of two books, including Killing Journalism on the State of the Media, and Assistant Professor of Media at Rutgers University and Fairleigh Dickinson University. Contact him at [email protected] and 732-643-4277. Follow him on Twitter at @joestrupp

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