This year’s school budget season doesn’t look to be as painful as in prior years for the Montclair public schools. However, school officials are still bracing for some difficulties with a $1.5 million deficit.

Montclair got an early look at the school budget during Monday night’s BOE meeting.

The budget in its current state includes a $114,889,279 tax levy, up 2 percent from last year’s $112,636,548. The overall projected budget is $123,418,804. Last year’s was $120,660,294. The increase to homeowners’ tax bills has not yet been calculated and is dependent on state aid. The district is expecting $6,891,951, the same as in 2017. Those numbers will be officially released on March 13, said Business Administrator Emidio D’Andrea.

BOE President Laura Hertzog noted that the deficit is not as high as it had been in years prior.

In 2015, the district faced a massive $10.9 million deficit. It was around that time that then-Superintendent Penny MacCormack departed the district to start a new job in New York.

Some possibilities for closing the deficit include savings in transportation, scheduling stipends and classroom supplies. Additionally, the district is looking at the possibility that it could receive $1 million from the state in the form of a health benefits-related waiver. However, D’Andrea said that with those savings, the district would still have to come up with an additional $500,000 to close the gap.

The district is anticipating some savings resulting from teacher and staff retirements, but some reductions in force among teachers and paraprofessionals are possible. Last year, the district was looking at the prospect of eliminating 50 paraprofessional positions, a concept that was met with massive outcry from parents and teachers.

In light of the shooting in Parkland, Montclair is hoping that the state will provide additional funds for security upgrades. On a list of capital projects, the district has a line item for security projects at a cost of about $500,000.

Some possibilities for that include a revised master key system, as well as new security cameras at the high school and the middle schools. “We are secure, but we are looking to limit the points of entry, to three or four within each building,” D’Andrea said.

Amphitheater update

The subject of where to hold Montclair High School’s graduation ceremony came up for a short discussion.

Meg Temkin, who has three children in the schools, asked the district to consider moving the ceremony from the amphitheater at the high school, the ceremony’s traditional location, to Woodman Field for space and safety issues.

Temkin presented the board with a letter asking for the ceremony to be moved, with the signatures of about 200 parents.

The subject of graduation venue came up for discussion and debate last year after the amphitheater was filled beyond capacity, and numerous parents complained about not being able to find a seat. However, several parents argued in favor of maintaining the traditional venue.

Board member Joe Kavesh, himself an MHS graduate, said that he himself was in favor of keeping the graduation ceremony in the amphitheater, but he acknowledged that there were safety concerns. “I want to keep it there, but I have heard the concerns raised by parents,” he said.