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Wednesday, March 30, 2016

(Board of Ed) FY2017 Budget adopted, next year's outlook clouded

One time budget tricks are just postponing a crisis.

Taking a page from the Chris Christie playbook, the Plainfield Board of Education passed its FY2017 budget of $189,643,334 at last night's business meeting and budget hearing.

To cover a shortfall of $2.62 million, the District will draw down its surplus by $1 million and expects to have $1 million on hand by the end of the year (June 30) to add to the pot. The remaining $620,000 is to come from negotiated savings in contractual services (copiers and consultants were examples given).

Thus, the District was able to avoid large-scale staff layoffs, though the original proposal had included shrinking jobs by attrition as well -- that is, not replacing slots that become vacant with equivalently paid personnel. We may hear more about this issue as the FY2017 year unfolds.

Meanwhile, drawing on the surplus to cover a shortfall in the operating budget is a signal of deep fiscal distress. The money is supposed to be a sort of "rainy day fund" for emergencies or unexpected expenses. Normal operating expenses are hardly "unexpected".

With contractual obligations that will rise next year and benefits costs that are also expected to increase, plus a growing charter school population (meaning less funds for the District's use), this means the Plainfield public schools are looking at an even tougher budget picture next year.

Time for the public to start thinking ahead.

The Board of Ed election is April 19, and there are candidates who can do better than Wilma Campbell.

  -- Dan Damon [follow]

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