Supt. of Schools James Agostine and Board of Education Chairman Darrell Trump both support a Board of Finance plan to use enterprise funds and a portion of the medical reserve to take the proposed education budget increase down to zero.
"You're okay with zero?" Board of Finance Chairman Mark Reed asked Agostine at a Board of Finance Budget Workshop at Chalk Hill School Thursday night.
"We can make it work," Agostine replied.
The Board of Finance took a straw vote and unanimously agreed on the zero percent increase to fund Monroe Public Schools. The official budget vote will be taken at its meeting next Wednesday.
The Board of Education's budget it currently $51.4 million.
Throughout the process, Agostine and a few Board of Education members had mentioned needs, such as building maintenance and technology, which were not included in their spending request.
Ted Quinlan, a Board of Finance member, said, "I heard whatever was not submitted in the budget is the problem of the people who submitted the budget. Next year I implore you to put it all on the table. Look at it as a Christmas list, because you can't get what you don't ask for."
"We absolutely will do it," Agostine said with a smile.
The Board of Education had requested a 1.79 percent increase. But Board of Finance Chairman Mark Reed and fellow board member Michael Manjos had recently presented a proposal on how the Board of Education could bring that down to zero.
They said that the enterprise fund — which is about $530,000) could be used, as well as a portion of the medical reserve, which they believe is overfunded.
Trump said based on an evaluation by the Board of Education's claims provider, he believes a portion of the medical reserve can be used to offset the budget increase. He also credited Agostine for bringing the significant growth of the enterprise fund to the board's attention.
Trump expressed a desire to work more closely with the Board of Finance and said he would support a zero percent increase in hopes of a successful first referendum.
"I believe we would continue to meet our obligations as advocates of the children of this community," he said. "A zero percent budget, funded as I have outlined would not result in any reduction of staff or programs and would allow us to continue to provide a quality program to the children of Monroe."
Jeff Guttman, a Board of Education member, said he believes Reed and Manjos' plan was a "terrific proposal" because teachers, students and programs would not be adversly affected.
The Enterprise Fund
Agostine explained that the enterprise fund is a contra account, a place to process incoming revenue. Ideally, he said a little will be left at the end of the fiscal year, which could then be used as start up money for the next year.
"We had a daycare center, so the money was coming in faster," Agostine said, alluding to the time the Board of Education housed a daycare center at Jockey Hollow Middle School. "It is our intention to run a close to zero balance."
Gabriela DiBlasi, the finance director for the school district, said she believes the enterprise fund first began to accumulate significant sums in 2005. She said funding from the account was used to start the Science Technology Engineering & Math Academy this year.
Agostine wants to use some of the fund for technology and building maintenance.
The Medical Fund
Quinlan wanted to make sure that the $400,000 taken out of the Board of Education's medical reserve fund was not just a number needed to take the increase down zero percent.
Agostine said, "Even early on in the process, the medical reserve was looked at as a place to cut if we needed to cut."
The superintendent added that negotiations with unions were still going on at that time and that the Board of Education did not know which direction that would go.
"Our consultant was confident we could go to 25 percent," Agostine said of the reserve fund.
Trump wants to use a portion of the enterprise funds to set up a technology account to replace some aging computers. He also asked the Board of Finance to consider the capital needs of Monroe's schools during its deliberations.
Another request made by Trump is to use $129,000 in unallocated funds the Board of Education returned to the town as an account it can draw from to make the first year payment on new financial software to be used by Monroe Public Schools and the town.