Evesham BOE adopts budget, funds half of requirement for School Resource Officer program

The board included $250,000 in hopes the money would be enough to convince the township to allow the program to continue in some capacity.

Evesham’s Board of Education approved its final 2017–2018 school year budget at this week’s meeting, and included within that budget was a $250,000 allocation toward the district’s School Resource Officer program for next year.

The inclusion of the of $250,000 was the result of an announcement from Evesham Township Council several weeks ago where council said the township would no longer fund the entirety of the $500,000 program that places full-time police officers at the district school buildings.

After much debate between the members of the BOE at the meeting, the board decided to include the $250,000 to meet the township halfway on the program, in hopes the money would be enough to convince the township to allow the program to continue in some capacity.

With the $250,000 included in the district’s budget, the annual K-8 tax levy increase for Evesham homeowners with the average-assessed home valued at 269,900 is now set at $81.14.

With the inclusion of the $250,000, in addition to reductions that have been made in the budget due to retirements and other expanded revenues since introduction of the tentative budget in March, the overall tax levy reached $57,515,145, which was slightly below the $57,518,249 predicted in March.

The 2017–2018 budget will raise the total general fund tax levy by 1.64 percent, below the state-mandated 2 percent tax-levy increase cap.

With the money for the SRO program in the budget, Superintendent John Scavelli Jr. warned the district would accrue a smaller amount of banked cap this year.

Districts that don’t raise taxes to the full 2 percent tax levy cap from year to year can “bank” their remaining difference for three years to use in raising future taxes above the 2 percent cap.

Scavelli said the district has predicated banked cap funds would be needed to cover shortfalls in future budgets in the next several years.

“It is our outlook that we will need banked cap to help balance those budgets as we move forward, so where it does affect banked cap is in the future because we’d have that much less to allocate if we needed it at some point in the future,” Scavelli said.

Despite the smaller amount of banked cap, board members had varying opinions about including the $250,000. While no board member spoke against the need for the program, several made comments in regard to the amount of money the district was putting forward.

Board member Dennis Mehigan said he believed the $250,000 should have been higher to have a better chance of funding the full program.

“Why it’s on our budget and not the township’s budget is not what we’re here to debate … it’s the fact that the town council has come back and said they’re not going to pay for it,” Mehigan said.

Board member Trish Everhart expressed concern that the $250,000 could impact the district’s ability to fund other necessities in future budgets.

“What will that do in terms of our ability to meet the needs of programs and staff as well as every other thing we cover in the budget moving forward?” Everhart asked.

Board vice president Sandy Student, who wanted to fund the entire program, spoke to those questioning the possibility of a referendum.

Student said the earliest possible time to told such a vote would be November, leaving the district without officers for September, October, November and possibly December.

“Part of the governmental responsibility of the board members is to make decisions,” Student said.

According to Scavelli, if township council does not put any extra funding toward the SRO program, the district may find itself in a scenario where it can only afford fewer officers than it has now.

Scavelli said the township might also choose not to accept the $250,000 at all, in which case the district could explore using those fund to hire its own security force if the BOE decided to move in such a direction.

Those on the board who voted for the budget included board president JoAnne Harmon and board members Elaine Barbagiovanni, Jeff Bravo, Everhart, Joseph Fisicaro Jr., William McGoey and Mehigan.

Those who voted against the budget included Student and board member Nichole Stone.