By CHRIS EBERHART
The Harrison school board adopted the district’s $99.7 million budget, a budget in which the district will pay off its remaining debt balance.
The budget came with a major programmatic cut, but kept year-to-year spending increases to a minimum—only a 1.01 percent increase over last year’s $97.1 million budget—and remained in-line with the state mandated 3.42 percent tax levy cap.
This year’s tax rate, which is the cost to the average homeowner and differs from the tax levy, is at an estimated 3.58 percent increase over last year’s budget and equates to an approximate additional cost of $379 per year for the average homeowner’s tax bill.
Robert Salierno, Harrison’s assistant superintendent of business, said the 2014-2015 budget will eliminate the school’s debt by paying the last remaining $1.8 million debt payment, which he said will give the district more flexibility in the future. Specifically, Salierno said he will look to restore the $650,000 that was reduced from the budget’s large-scale capital projects and major-repair line items.
“The retiring debt provides opportunity that could allow us the ability to restore
the capital cuts made for next year, remove it from the budget completely to reduce the budget, float a bond or any combination of these thoughts,” Salierno said. “The board would have to consider the best action as the 2015-2016 year approaches.”
As far as budget cuts are concerned, the most significant came with the elimination of the elementary school foreign language program, which included four teachers, saving the district $490,044.
Salierno said, because of budget restraints, the program was never able to evolve as the district envisioned. He said more teachers needed to be hired to increase contact time with students at early stages in development, but that never came to fruition because of the tax cap.
Foreign language will continue to be offered at the sixth grade level.
Harrison Board of Education member David Singer said this budget “is a product of great work and diligence” but the elimination of the foreign language program serves as a reminder of the effects of the tax levy cap.
Despite the cut in the foreign language program along with other reductions, including a savings of $520,000 due to retirement incentives for six teachers, class sizes remain in the 19 to 22 student range, which Board of Education member Joan Tiburzi applauded.
“It’s important to note, despite the enormous obstacles of the tax cap and gap elimination adjustment [which is anticipated state aid that is withheld to shore up the state’s budget], we were able to maintain class sizes,” Tiburzi said.
The budget goes out to public vote on May 20.