In a recent meeting, the Palisades Park School Board navigated fiscal challenges and strategic planning as they presented the school district’s budget for the upcoming fiscal year beginning July 1, 2023. Even with financial constraints, the board pledged to maintain high-quality education, underscored the importance of bilingual programs, and noted an increase in special education needs.
Despite a two percent cap on the tax increase, set under Governor Christie’s administration, the board was able to allocate resources to tackle some key challenges. With salaries and benefits for teachers set to rise by three percent and consuming about 77% of the budget, Dr. Serillo, a board member, underlined the district’s need to upgrade aging facilities and improve technology infrastructure.
The board also planned for updates to the English language arts and Mathematics curriculum and for professional development and curriculum writing. They noted an increased demand for special education services with out-of-district education expenses potentially rising by around $80,000 to $100,000 per student.
One noteworthy observation was the district’s increasing commitment to bilingual education due to the growth in English language learners, now comprising 30% of the district’s student population. Plans for the future include offering more internship programs within the community, a strategy that Dr. Serillo explained as “making it happen” despite budget constraints.
The board’s financial management also took center stage, with an emphasis on maintaining a debt-free district by setting aside funds for capital and maintenance reserves. However, with almost 80% of the budget already committed to salaries and benefits before the fiscal year begins, there was an agreement on the need for careful financial management.
The topic of the two percent tax levy limit sparked a robust debate. Several board members questioned how the budget could accommodate additional programs or cost increases within this limit. They explored potential solutions such as collaborating with local government on shared costs for security and transportation.
In their commitment to transparency and financial responsibility, the board clarified the district’s total budget of $33 million in comparison to the town’s $27 million. The district’s commitment to work within their means, despite wanting to request more funds, was a recurrent theme, with state regulation limiting increases to 2% unless there was an adequacy adjustment.
Alongside these fiscal matters, the board also discussed potential expansions, notably of the pre-K program, and the possibility of creating their own special education program to better serve students and save money. They also acknowledged the necessity of external grant funding, and noted the importance of enhancing communication between the board, the school, and the community about the district’s needs.
In addition, the board had to address the emergency closure of Lindbergh Elementary School due to a fire incident, which underscored the need for robust plans to ensure the continuity of education in unforeseen circumstances.
The meeting concluded on an optimistic note with a board member’s assurance that “today is better than it was yesterday.”