By law, the school budget process must follow certain steps in sequential order, and must be completed by a specified date.
In Montclair, the process begins with an initial public presentation of the draft budget, which normally takes place in late January or early February. The tentative adoption of this budget by the Board takes place during the first Board of Education meeting in March.
The budget is then forwarded to the County Superintendent for his review. He gives districts permission to advertise in the local press (a legal requirement in the process) at that time.
A second public meeting in March allows the Board to make adjustments to the tentative budget, and only at a subsequent meeting can the budget be formally adopted.
“These are the steps we have to follow, and we obviously need a certain amount of time to complete each one,” Ms. Sullivan said. “The public needs time to weigh in, and the Board and the County Superintendent need time to review it. Time also has to be built in to make adjustments, if necessary.”
The Board-approved budget next goes before the Board of School Estimate. In Montclair, the Board of School Estimate consists of two members of the Board of Education, two members of the Township Council, and the mayor.
The Board of School Estimate normally holds two or three budget workshops, which will be open to the public, before adopting the final budget.
Because the final adoption must take place by April 8, and state aid figures are not expected before the end of February at the earliest, district and township officials will be “in a time crunch,” Ms. Sullivan anticipates.
“We can’t skip any steps, reverse the order of the process or in any way alter it,” she said. “But without those aid figures, we’re kind of in a ‘what if?’ situation.”
The Superintendent concurred. “State aid will be the crucial factor in this budget — even more than in years past, because of the economy,” he said. “But right now there are a lot more questions than answers —not just for Montclair, but for everybody.”
Parents and citizens who are interested in learning more about the school budget process and how state funding impacts Montclair are invited to a free public forum on Thursday, January 28. Read more.