Lakewood Schools Deal with Major Budget Shortfall [AUDIO]
Lakewood school district is facing an almost four million dollar shortfall after suffering some unexpected expenses and a spike of students needing buses.
The district was already starting the school year with on shaky financial ground. They hired a new business administrator, who was forced to review the budget from scratch, and noticed the predecessor put a lot of the district's surplus towards offsetting any tax increases.
"It was above and beyond the two percent that's recommended under the budget so we were using that surplus to offset tax increases, which should be done, but we may have done it a little too much," says Yechezkel Seitler, Township School Board Vice President.
In addition to the precarious budget situation Lakewood was in, the district was hit with nearly double the anticipated number of additional private and public students requiring busing.
"We anticipated 3,000 additional students, it turns out as the year started we have 5,939 as of Monday night." Says Seitler.
Lakewood buses students both for its public school system, as well as the numerous private and religious based schools in the town. Seitler says they are the largest school busing system in the state of New Jersey, transporting 30,000 students daily.
"The problem is 24,000 of them are in private schools."
Seitler notes some students might be able to fit on existing routes, which will save them money, "but we're going to be going way over budget."
In addition to an influx of students needing busing, he adds they've seen an increase of families moving in the township for their other educational resources, specifically the School for Children with Hidden Intelligence (SCHI), a facility catering towards students with disabilities and special needs.
"There were 10 children who moved in to the township this summer just so their parents could send them to SCHI, at $120,000 after you include the nursing and everything else is $1.2 million."
To get rid of some of the deficit Seitler says they've already found a $1 million to cut in a food service fund as well as the ability to save some money by placing students on busses with room. However, even in a best case scenario, the district will be down $2 million and will implement a corrective action plan.
"We do want to go to a referendum for our bond, we can add an additional $2 million into that bond issue. We can ask the tax payers for money or we can ask the state for a loan."
Seitler says the district has gone to the Department of Education to ask for help with no result. He points out Lakewood is outside the mold of anything Trenton is used to.