One of the more important jobs a school board does, is to oversee the construction of the annual school budget. As part of our continuing series of articles on how school boards function, we would like to describe the budget process and dispel a number of misconceptions.
Let’s start with how a budget is constructed. The development of the school budget starts in January for the following school year, which begins July 1. Academic supervisors and district administrators analyze the financial needs of each program at each school and submit these needs to the superintendent, who works with the business administrator to flesh out each budget line. Each budget item requires justification. In this way, the budget is built from the ground up. Like many organizations, the bulk of our budget is personnel and benefits.
There are multiple layers of oversight throughout the budget development process. The board regularly reviews progress and provides feedback to the administration, in order to ensure that the money is responsibly allocated. These budget development progress reports are delivered at almost every board meeting, and the public is free to comment on these reports. A Tentative Budget is presented in March, and then a legally required formal Public Hearing of the Budget is presented prior to adoption sometime in April.
Additional financial oversight is provided to the district by outside experts. Our budget must be approved by the County Superintendent, prior to implementation, and all school districts receive a thorough annual financial audit. As we have for many years, we continue to receive very clean audits. In addition, the state-mandated 2% cap on property tax increases limits the growth of the budget. We must make sure every dollar is used wisely.
The board is mindful of the need to keep costs down. Cost saving opportunities are always explored as part of the budgeting process. Toward this goal, our district belongs to several purchasing consortiums, and we enter into shared services agreements with the Township where possible (eg, garbage, broadband internet, security). We also explore creative ways to save money. For instance, we upgraded to more efficient lighting and installed more solar panels, through a state-sponsored Energy Savings Improvement Plan (ESIP) — at no cost to the taxpayer. We also upgraded and centralized HVAC controls for efficiency.
If you read our information piece, “What does a school board actually do?” it will come as no surprise that the board does not micromanage line-by-line construction of the budget. Our role is to oversee the process and ensure that the money is allocated consistent with the district goals. Contrary to what our opponents believe, it would be entirely inappropriate for school board members to try to figure out how many paint brushes are needed in the art classes, or how many bouncy balls the gym teachers need, or how many light bulbs the maintenance department is expecting to use.
In short, the excellent education Montville Township students receive is supported by a fiscally responsible budget, that is constructed with substantial oversight and quality reviews by external financial experts. The board knows that we are there to ask questions and provide oversight.
Grau, Cortellino, and Modrak are delivering the quality education that students deserve, while remaining fiscally responsible to the township.
Let’s keep our schools academically and fiscally strong. Vote on November 2nd.