What are we really spending on education?

| 29 Mar 2012 | 12:29

    WEST MILFORD — The proposed school budget for the 2012-2013 school year is $68.5 million. If this year is like all of the others over the past decade, that will not be the amount paid for educating West Milford's children.

    Board of education Trustee Jim Foody, along with resident Gary Steele, who ran unsuccessfully for school board in each of the last two elections, questioned the unanticipated income and additional expenditures over the approved budgeted amounts over the past 10 years. Those amounts ranged from $2.5 to $7 million each year. Steele said there is a perception in the community of dishonesty because of these numbers.

    "So my question is, have we made any efforts to more accurately indicate what that unanticipated income might be this year based on the history of the last 10 years?” asked Steele.

    For example, according to figues from the business office and the school audit that were provided by Foody, the district spent almost $71 million in 2011 when the approved budget figure was $67.7 million. That's a difference of over $3.2 million.

    Business Administrator Barbara Francisco said there are many things that go into building a budget, and that additional revenue cannot be utilized in the current budget year; additional money received over what is estimated goes into a fund balance for the following year. And some things are rolled over into the next year’s budget, making it appear that the budget is actually bigger than what is approved. For example, bills to be paid that are submitted for payment after June 30 roll over into the next year’s budget as encumbrances. Francisco said $398,000 was rolled over this year as encumbrances.

    “We can only anticipate what we are going to get, and if we get additional money from the federal government, that becomes additional revenue and that expands your budget,” Francisco said. “I don’t make this stuff up. I have rules and regulations that I have to follow. So, if there appears to be more money spent, it’s because we’re legally allowed to bring money forward that we do not anticipate at this point in time.”

    As for miscellaneous revenue, Francisco said the board has to approve all of that money by resolution before it is used.

    “There is no impropriety. And trust me, if for some reason there actually was, then the auditors would have caught it, because they go through and test everything," said Francisco. "There is a justification for every dollar that is spent.”

    Francisco said she is tired of allegations of impropriety, something she's heard for the past year and a half, the entire time she's been in the district.

    Interim Superintendent John Petrelli agreed.

    “The allegations of continued impropriety are baseless here, and it continues to go on. And the truth of the matter is that it is not real, and you know it’s not real and has never been real, otherwise the auditor’s reports for the past 15 to 20 years would have indicated that," Petrelli said.

    Foody said the differences in the budget amounts - what is approved and what is actually spent - concern him.

    “It has never been explained that we are spending an average of $5.3 million more than what was voted on,” he said, adding that the board should "immediately broadcast to the community" when grant money is received.

    Francisco said any grant money that comes in is approved and accepted by the board before it can be used. All are discussed at board meetings.

    "What the public should know is that we are spending more money on education than what the budget reflects," said Trustee John Aiello. "So the budget of itself isn't the whole picture as far as what we spend on education and sometimes the way things are presented - that the world is gonna come to an end if we don't approve a budget."