EGG HARBOR TOWNSHIP — From anticipated savings in reduced fall sports, to staff reductions, to lowered premiums for health benefits, area school districts impacted by state aid cuts approved amended 2020-21 budgets recently in the wake of aid loses due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We did this by making a number of cuts, as well as by applying CARES Act funding where appropriate, and using savings in the spring when school was remote to apply toward items needed for next year,” said Pete Castellano, president of the Egg Harbor Township Board of Education, which approved its amendments Aug. 11.
Among South Jersey districts dealing with aid reductions, Egg Harbor Township saw its proposed aid reduced by $4 million, Atlantic City had to cut $12 million, Bridgeton $5.6 million, Cumberland County Technical Education Center $2 million, Pleasantville $1 million and Vineland $858,227.
The districts were among hundreds in the state that were anticipating an increase in state aid this year under the school funding reform law passed in 2018, but had those increases slashed as the state deals with a more than $10 billion reduction in revenue related to the economic shutdown amid the pandemic.
The districts already had adopted their final budgets in May for the 2020-21 school year when the funding cuts were announced over the summer.
The Egg Harbor Township Board of Education was able to reduce spending using a combination of, among other things, an influx of $978,000 in federal CARES Act emergency funding, savings from supplies purchased last school year and anticipated savings from fall sports.
Castellano said the district was notified by the Cape-Atlantic League that there won’t be middle school sports this fall.
“If it turns out that if the high school season is postponed or canceled, we will do our best to keep our athletes and all of our students fully active and engaged so some funding would still be needed,” he added.
During the board meeting on Aug. 11, school business administrator Chandra Anaya said that some savings called “breakage” were reductions in spending due to retirements, as well as savings from being closed during the summer.
“So yay, we got through guys,” Anaya told the board after presenting the changes.
“I know we had many moments of nail biting and teeth crunching and ‘oh my God’ moments, but it worked out,” Superintendent Kim Gruccio told Anaya.
In Atlantic City, the school board approved on Aug. 10 adding $3 million from its general operating reserve — also known as fund balance — and $3 million from its maintenance reserve to help fill the $12 million hole.
The board reduced spending on health benefits, unemployment and social security contributions by about $3 million.
Pleasantville adopted its budget reduction on Aug. 11 by using $529,510 of its fund balance, cutting one of its three Class III police officers at $50,000, and reducing spending of $150,000 in employee health benefits premiums and $300,000 in instructional consultants.
Gov. Phil Murphy, whose proposed 2021 budget was released in late February with $16.3 billion for preschool through 12th grade public education — an increase of $336.5 million for K-12 education formula aid and $83 million in new preschool spending — is expected to release his final budget for the shortened fiscal year on Aug. 25.
Castellano said he has not lost hope that some of the proposed aid will be added back for districts.
“We didn’t know for certain that the aid cuts were coming. In fact, we remain optimistic that in the upcoming Sept. 30 budget announcement, we might have some aid restored,” he said.