Above: Board of Education president Bryon Torsiello, left, Schools Superintendent Paula Valenti and district Business Administrator Mike Rinderknecht at Monday’s meeting.
The Glen Rock Board of Education voted Monday to approve a tentative school budget for the 2017-18 school year of $51,042,107, a budget that represents a 2.99 percent increase over the 2016-17 budget, but will include middle school sports and also include the one-to-one initiative that will provide laptops for high school students.
The board will dip into its “banked cap’’ to pay for the laptop initiative, as the budget exceeds the 2 percent increase allowed by state law. School districts that do not reach the 2 percent increase the law allows in any given budget year are allowed to “bank’’ the difference between the allowed 2 percent and the actual increase, and save it to use in later years. By not reaching that 2 percent cap in past years, Glen Rock had “banked cap’’ available to allow it to exceed the 2 percent limit for this budget.
According to school district Business Administrator Michael Rinderknecht, the 2.99 percent increase will mean an increase in taxes of roughly $168.60 on a home assessed at $558,279, which is the average assessment for a home in Glen Rock.
The major controversy in the budget discussions had been the proposal to eliminate six sports at Glen Rock Middle School. To save money, the board had initially voted to cut the sports – boys and girls soccer, boys and girls basketball, baseball and softball – which are offered by the borough in its youth recreational and travel sports programs. Cross country, volleyball and track and field, which are offered by Glen Rock Middle School and not offered in any form by the borough at the youth level, were not targeted to be dropped.
But the backlash from the public against the decision to eliminate the sports prompted the board to reverse course and try to find a way to keep them in the budget. To make that happen, the board agreed at its March 6 meeting to raise the sports activity fees at the High School and Middle School. The sports activity fee at the high school remains $150, but instead of paying the fee only one time, to cover all sports and activities a student takes part in, students who participate in multiple sports will now pay the activity fee for the first two sports. If they play a third sport, that would be free. So a student at the High School who plays sports in each of the fall, winter and spring seasons would pay $300 in activity fees, as compared to $150 in 2016-17. The Middle School sports activity fee goes up from $75 to $100, and the same rule applies that a multi-sport athlete would pay the activity fee for the first two sports.
There also is now a separate “club fee’’ to cover non-sports activities. In the past, the same activity fee was required for any extra-curricular activity. The new club fee is $75 for the High School and $25 for the Middle School and is a one-time fee covering all non-sports activities.
The tentative budget includes $986,900 for capital projects, including roof replacement/restoration at the High School/Middle School; floor tile replacement at Byrd and Coleman schools; a replacement of a heating/air conditioning unit on top of the High School/Middle School and a repair/replacement of the tennis courts at the High School. Board member Eileen Hillock asked whether there was any chance of voting separately on the tennis courts, which are scheduled to cost $278,000 to repair. However, Rinderknecht said if the tennis courts repair – or any other item – were to be removed from the capital improvement list, it would then be removed from the budget altogether and would have to wait at least until the 2018-19 school year to be addressed. Board member Elizabeth Carr said the damage to the tennis courts could be a safety hazard, and therefore should not wait a year to be fixed.
Carr and Hillock both questioned the increase in the district’s travel budget, which is $85,740 for 2016-17 and bumps up to $97,225 for ’17-18. Rinderknecht explained that the increase was due to the district negotiating last year to pay up to $10,000 for up to four administrators to travel to national conferences. Rinderknecht said the travel budgets are usually estimated on the high end, and that whatever money isn’t used goes into the district’s surplus, which then can be appropriated and used in the following year’s budget. Hillock argued that since there is money left over in the existing travel budget for 2016-17, the district should be able to absorb the additional $10,000 without having to increase the travel budget for next year. She ultimately voted yes to the overall budget, but with an exception to note her opposition to increasing the travel budget.
The topic of Glen Rock High School joining the Big North Athletic Conference did not come up. And with the budget passed, the board voted to cancel its scheduled March 20 meeting, meaning the Big North discussion will not come up again until the next scheduled meeting, March 27.