Source: https://www.njherald.com, October 31, 2018
By: Jennifer Jean Miller
More than $600,000 in previously cut state aid has been reinstated to the Hopatcong School District to help cover mold remediation costs.
The district’s Board of Education announced at its meeting this week that $611,056 in state aid cut during Gov. Phil Murphy’s school funding plan in July was fully reinstated via an emergency aid application.
A needs assessment from state Department of Education determined the district’s significant financial outlay to detect and subsequently remediate mold issues that occurred within all of its schools. The rainy and humid summer triggered the problem throughout many districts in the region.
Acting Education Commissioner Lamont O. Repollet informed the district of the reinstated aid in a letter mailed to Superintendent Arthur DiBenedetto. The district posted Repollet’s letter to DiBenedetto on its website Tuesday.
Repollet acknowledged that “the district has provided detailed information of a material subsequent event of a fiscal nature relative to the application.”
“Specifically, the district must fund significant uninsured costs related to mold remediation during the 2018-2019 school year. Accordingly, the department has determined to approve the district’s request for emergency aid in the amount of $611,056.”
DiBenedetto told the New Jersey Herald that districts that were subject to the slash in aid were permitted to file an emergency application. Hopatcong faced the cut after submitting its budget to the state, which resulted in a district-wide reduction in August of two assistant principals, two academic skills teachers and two secretaries. DiBenedetto, who assumed his role as superintendent late last month, credited Business Administrator Carolyn Joseph with filing the application.
“Subsequent to the application,” Repollet wrote to DiBenedetto, “the district discovered and remediated mold in the school buildings. As reported by the district, the cost of the remediation is likely not to be covered by the district’s insurance. The unforeseen cost was not included in the district’s 2018-2019 original budget certified for taxes.”
“The state was kind enough to understand we spent a lot to remediate,” DiBenedetto said.
Board President Anthony Fasano, who described the letter at the meeting as “hot off the press,” advised the audience of the letter’s receipt following questions from the public about the loss of state aid and how much was left in the reserve fund after its payout of mold remediation and testing costs. Board Vice President Alex McLean told the public the reserve was “dangerously low,” with about $386,000 remaining after transfers for payments to the mold remediation and testing companies.
The Board of Education transferred $103,358.04 at its Sept. 24 meeting from capital reserve to its general fund to cover ServPro’s mold remediation fees. At Monday’s meeting, the board unanimously voted on another transfer from capital reserve of $819,394.05 to cover a second payment to ServPro for remediation in the amount of $741,297.36 and for Phase Associates for mold testing services in the amount of $78,096.69.
DiBenedetto told the New Jersey Herald the district had no further payments to make for mold remediation and testing following the payment authorization approvals on Monday. Outside of the emergency funds the state will be issuing, DiBenedetto said grants or other emergency funds to cover the remainder spent are not options. While DiBenedetto said riders for mold coverage will be added to the district’s insurance coverage next year, the deductibles for this type of coverage are typically high.
DiBenedetto said he reached out to the state to inquire where the $611,056 should be applied and is awaiting a response.
The mold issue delayed the first day of school from Sept. 6 to Sept. 18, with schools only open nine days in September. The board approved calendar revisions at the end of last month to offset the days lost from the mold incidents.