South Orange - Maplewood BOE Passes District Goals

Issues include the 2% budget cap, reregistration, the Montrose School and more.


The South Orange - Maplewood Board of Education passed the 2013-14 District Goals on Monday night by a 7-1 vote, after adding amended language regarding a 2% cap on the operating budget.

Board member Madhu Pai was the lone dissenting vote; member Wayne Eastman was absent and was unable to vote.

Before the vote, the board voted to amend a milestone for the 2013-14 school year regarding budgeting. The old language read:

"Approve 2013-14 operating budget with a year-over-year tax impact not greater than 2% for the operating budget. In the case of extenuating circumstances, such as the loss of state aid, banked cap may be used."

The new language, which will replace the bolded sentence, is: 

"Should, after exhausting all feasible options to reduce costs, it be impossible to limit the tax impact to 2% without substantially impeding the district’s ability to meet its goals, banked cap may be used.”

The amended language passed by a vote of 5-3, with Jeffrey Bennett, Madhu Pai and Beth Daugherty voting against.

After the goals were passed, Daugherty said to Superintendent Brian Osborne, "Even though the language has been amended, the message is please give it your best shot at 2%."

During the deliberations, Daugherty she believed that the "right answer" for Columbia High School is to build an addition with an aquatic center and flexible classroom space, which as a capital expense would be funded by bonding.

Daugherty said that since the 2% cap is calculated on the operating budget, it goes into the base and that (higher) number is what 2% is calculated on the following year. By contrast, she said, debt service does not compound on itself. “Debt service is cheaper than operating budget,” she said. 

Sandra Karriem said that Osborne "knows what we’re looking for and he’s not going to play a game." Lynne Crawford agreed.

Reached by Patch after the meeting, Pai said: "I feel quite strongly that while jobs and property values are on the decline, we should not be adding further tax stress on our community," said Pai. "(However) I am part of a larger body which has spoken. Last night we provided our Superintendent with a set of goals that we believe will benefit our students and continue to drive our district forward, and I look forward to seeing him meet or exceed them."

Regarding the goal concerning upholding residency laws, the board voted to remove the milestone, "Continue targeted re-registration." The district had completed a reregistration of 10th grade last year.

“No one should take this as a message that we are not doing everything in our power to reregister and make sure our kids are domiciled here," said Daugherty. "It’s just we are already doing it and doing a good job at it.” 

The district collaborates with Maplewood and South Orange to deter residency violations and regularly removes students who are found to be non-domiciled. “We take residency cases seriously and landlords who permit their addresses to be used unlawfully will be prosecuted under the municipal ordinance,” said district attorney Jessica DeKonick. 

Karriem said the reregistration of 10th grade showed that the problem is "insignificant." 

Daugherty said, “There are some non-domiciled students here (but) there’s not the rampant problem that the push for reregistration for grade ten was going to potentially unearth.”

She asked Osborne if the administration could examine whether there are certain common threads found among students who are removed from the district. 

The board also voted to pass -- with slight modifications -- two "Guiding Change" documents that will help determine the direction the district takes with certain key issues: the Gifted & Talented program and The Montrose School. The third guiding change document, the Capital Plan, will be voted on at the next meeting.  

The next board meeting is on November 19 at 7:30 p.m.


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