With the recent discussion over moving the Board of Education elections in South Orange and Maplewood, another question has emerged: what should the district do with the Board of School Estimate?
The Board of School Estimate (BSE) is a body made up of three South Orange elected officials and three Maplewood elected officials, as well as Board of Education members. While the Board of Education approves the budget, the BSE’s main task is to approve the school budget tax levy each year.
Fast-tracked state legislation allowing the district to move the November elections (a moot point this year since the South Orange Board of Trustees and the Board of Education did not support such a move for 2012) would keep the Board of School Estimate, but the BSE would come into play only for above-cap matters, with specific amounts for specific purposes to be voted "yes" or "no."
At the last Maplewood Township Committee meeting, Committeeman Jerry Ryan noted that, under the new legislation, school budgets would only go to a vote if they exceed the state-mandated cap, including exceptions and banked cap. Formerly, districts without a Board of School Estimate would have a ballot on the budget regardless.
During a discussion of the Board of School Estimate's role both before and after the legislation, the Maplewood Township Committee members evinced much confusion about the mechanics of the Board of School Estimate. "If we can't be clear on the roles and responsibilities, how is the public supposed to understand this? This is why the BSE must go," Ryan later told Patch.
Maplewood Township Committee members agreed that dissolving the Board of School Estimate would lead to more transparency.
"It would help people understand better how their taxes are arrived at," said Committeewoman India Larrier.
Speaking in an unofficial capacity at a South Orange Board of Trustees meeting, Ryan went further with his disapproval of the Board of School Estimate policy.
"[The BSE] is archaic, it’s unfair, it’s unclear and it’s undemocratic,” said Ryan. “I, personally, speaking just for myself, would like very much to see us figure out a way to take action to see the Board of School Estimate just go away.”
South Orange Trustees didn’t seem to agree with Maplewood leaders’ opinions on the Board of School Estimate. Trustee Mark Rosner said that the BSE was “not strong enough” and that it needed “more say in the budget.”
"I think right now, it seems like the [Board of Education] can make a lot of decisions about the budget and the Board of School Estimate is approving that budget as a whole and not so forth,” said Rosner. "I think that as elected officials, whether it is the Board of Ed or the Board of Trustees, it’s up to us to make that decision and not pass everything off on a referendum. So I would prefer a way to strengthen the Board of School Estimate.”
Trustee Michael Goldberg agreed with strengthening the BSE, saying that "traditionally, it has been a rubber stamp for the Board of Ed.” He said that the BSE adds a "check and balance" to the Board of Education’s budget.
What do you think the two towns should do with the Board of School Estimate? Vote below and/or leave a comment.