It will likely take until mid-April for Toms River school administrators to know the ratables breakdown among the regional district's four municipalities, weeks after the 2013-14 budget is approved.
Because of Superstorm Sandy, the county has set a projected date of April 15 for finalizing ratable bases, said district Business Administrator William Doering Wednesday during the first of two budget meetings this week. Toms River officials have said that the township's ratables base may have lost 20 percent because of damage caused by Sandy, which may impact the distribution of school taxes among it and Beachwood, Pine Beach and South Toms River.
"Usually when we roll out a budget we have all of the ratable base information for the constituent municipalities and we roll out what the tax impact will be," Doering said.
When the budget is approved on March 21 during a public hearing at High School North, the Board of Education will not know the tax breakdown.
"We won't be able to present what the final impact is," Doering said. "That's a huge issue for not just us, but for other towns that have that problem."
Expenditures in the 2013-14 Toms River Regional School District budget are expected to increase 1.9 percent, administrators said Wednesday as board members and some residents examined a breakdown of expenses.
Doering said that next year's spending plan is a "maintenance budget," in that it keeps staffing and program levels stable. Of the $208 million of expenditures, "95 percent or more is zero-based," Doering said, meaning that those fixed costs including pensions, utilities and benefits cannot be reduced.
Administrators are trying to be proactive to combat the poential tax losses. Among the options is a Federal Emergency Management Agency program allowing for a loan of $5 million if a municipality's tax base is impaired. Doering said there are still uncertainties with that, such as how it could impact the tax base in coming years.
Though the district could apply to exceed the state-mandated 2 percent cap, Doering said that administrators are not "looking at any waivers" to do that.
Some items in the budget's expenses, such as an apparent 5.9 percent increase in special education spending, are up because of a reclassification of where line items appear, not necessarily because of increases, Doering said. Decreases in other areas because of the re-classifications are also in the budget.
Benefit costs are up 5.8 percent, or about $3.1 million, since the state has stopped paying some costs, according to Doering. For reductions, utilities costs are budgeted $50,000 lower than the current plan because of the district's energy education program.
The district is also factoring in a potential decrease of federal funding for IDEA and No Child Left Behind. Sequestration may have an impact on federal funding, Doering said.
"I don't see that single-handedly imploding us, but it could impact us," he said.
With the district $34 million under its adequacy budget — the amount of money the projected to run a school system of its size — board members said that they hope the public and elected officials will realize the work that goes into maintaining programs and staffing while keeping costs down.
"What we need to communicate to the community is that the lowest cost districts are not rewarded by the state," said board member Joseph Torrone, who pointed out that Toms River's per pupil cost is lower than districts that receive more state funding.
A second meeting this week, scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Thursday at the administration's 1144 Hooper Ave. offices, will focus on revenues since state aid figures are expected to be available by then.
The board will present the budget during a March 5 meeting at High School North before submitting it to the county superintendent by March 7. The final public hearing and board vote on adoption is set for March 21, again at High School North.