Update on School Budget Among Topics at Council Meeting
By Anne Levin
A presentation by Princeton Public Schools (PPS) Business Administrator Matt Bouldin was among the items at Princeton Council’s May 11 meeting, held virtually via Zoom. Bouldin and PPS Finance Chair Brian McDonald updated the governing body on the budget, which was recently passed by the Board of Education.
Bouldin discussed efforts that have been made since the COVID-19 crisis closed the schools. “The good news is that we should have some net savings for our current budget year, which should allow us to add some fund balance or cash in the bank,” he said. “We don’t know yet how much that will be.”
McDonald added that they have been working hard to identify opportunities to save funds, and have found in the neighborhood of $1 million. “We’re describing this as a budget, but I think of it as a snapshot,” he said. “We think it is highly likely this budget will change. We’ll need to take a second look in late August or early September, when we learn about the aid numbers [from the state of New Jersey] and when we have a better idea on costs related to COVID-19.”
Bouldin said that while remote learning is for the most part working well, there are many students in general and special education who are falling behind. “We have an obligation to keep these kids moving at an acceptable pace,” he said, adding that efforts may be made over the summer to help them catch up which could result in additional costs.
Regarding returning to the school buildings, School Board President Beth Behrend said a committee is meeting every other week to try and plan for every possible way this might be put into action. How to facilitate transportation, whether to order personal protective equipment (PPE), and proper social distancing are among the concerns. “This will hopefully help us deal with what comes, because we really don’t know what’s coming,” she said.
Council member Michelle Pirone Lambros reported that work is being done on a small business resiliency fund, which is planned to be in place by the end of May. Funds would go to businesses that have been hardest hit by the COVID-19 crisis. “Once it is in place, we will announce ways for individuals and organizations to donate as well as the application process.”
Lambros also relayed that the town’s Economic Development Committee has been discussing the reopening of local businesses, including how restaurants and retailers can accommodate social distancing by possibly using parks and plazas and extending sidewalks.
Mayor Liz Lempert stressed that people are encouraged to vote by mail for the upcoming primary election, which was moved to July 7. June 30 is the last day to submit a vote-by-mail application. Information is available at princetonnj.gov.
An update by Municipal Administrator Marc Dashield on goals and priorities led to an extensive discussion on which have become more urgent than others, due to the coronavirus. Lempert urged Council members to take a close look at the goals they are associated with and get back to Dashield with information on their progress.
The next meeting of Council is Tuesday, May 26.