HOWELL – This year’s School District spending plan got a unanimous nod from eight members of the School Board but concerns remain that state aid funds might be reduced when the state finalizes its budget in the fall.
The $123.1 million budget was described last month as a work in progress based on whether the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic would have an impact on the district’s finances and if the state would reduce state aid funding even further.
The budget does not call for any cuts and features a $2.3 tax rate which marks a decrease because ratables in the township have gone up. State aid went down in the district. It was around $28 million this year which is a decrease from what it was expecting due to the S-2 state aid funding formula.
S-2 is a controversial state plan to redirect aid from districts that experienced a decline in students and were considered to have more money than other districts.
Asst. Superintendent of Administration Ronald Sanasac presented a PowerPoint on the budget during the Board’s latest Zoom meeting. He thanked the members of the finance committee under Board Vice President Albert Miller’s chairmanship.
“Tonight, I will discuss the priorities that the committee considered and the accomplishments of this budget and the challenges that we faced and the legislative environment which is the challenge we face going forward,” Sanasac said.
Howell’s school district saw its state aid continue to drop during the current school year. Last year it received $32.63 million in state aid. The school district received $30.98 million for 2019-20 which represents a loss of $1.65 million.
“Last year we were in strange times, this year we are in even stranger times,” Sanasac said. “They have until Sept. 30 to let us know if they will fulfill the promise that was made in February during the governor’s address.”
Sanasac said that “the general fund levy came to $77,991,000 with, the debt levy at $4,000,337 with a total levy of $82,000,382.” He said last year’s figures were $82,00,328, $4,000,468 and $80,466,682. He noted that the local tax levy represented the lion’s share of the budget.
He added that this year’s budget means an approximately $47 a year ($2 a month) increase on the average home accessed at $363,000.
The budget also represented the district’s goal of student and staff learning. “The students and staff are always learning together for the betterment of the whole community. We try to keep down administrative costs. We have a strategy where we are not just looking at one budget and that allows us to build on this long-term fiscal responsibility that we are so proud of,” he said.
Board members are still concerned that the state might reduce aid further. Normally the state’s budget would have to be adopted by June 30 but due to the COVID-19 situation it was moved to Sept. 30. School districts however had to have their budgets adopted this month.
“This will be a very hard test for us not knowing what our numbers (in state aid) might be. We kind of have an idea. We could be starting a school year and looking at changes right up until Sept. 30,” Miller said.
“We monitor our debt very closely. There has not been a lot,” Sanasac said. He also mentioned that the district saw savings “in routing its buses very efficiently. By that we mean taking away wasted turns, wasted miles. We’ve been doing that for four years now. We are traveling less than other communities having more aggregated stops.”
Sanasac said the district was keeping track of costs associated to the pandemic and was looking for the district to receive some reimbursement for those costs. “We are very closely watching that and will be applying that where we can.”
“We do get money in federal aid which this year is projected to be $1,858,000 which is a small sliver of the overall pie,” Sanasac said.