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South Orange - Maplewood School Budget Passes

South Orange-Maplewood Board of Education passed a $104,473,642 preliminary budget

The South Orange - Maplewood Board of Education passed a $104,473,642 preliminary budget for 2013-14 on Monday night.  After impassioned discussion, members Beth Daugherty,  Sandra Karriem, Lynne E. Crawford, David R. Giles, and Andrea Wren-Hardin voted for the budget; Jeff Bennett, Wayne Eastman, and Madhu Pai voted against.  Bill Gaudelli was absent.

The total tax impact, known as the "all in" total is 2.93%, which translates into a tax increase of at least $199 for an "average" Maplewood household and $212 for an "average" South Orange household. (Cheryl Schneider, District Business Administrator, explained that the "average" household home used for calculations is one assessed at $422,000 in Maplewood and at $460,000 in South Orange.)

Board member Wayne Eastman proposed an unsuccessful amendment that would limit the tax levy to two percent. Members Eastman, Jeff Bennett, and Madhu Pai supported the amendment; all other members voted against it.

Bennett proposed an amendment that would reduce district-paid travel for professional development from $150,000 to $125,000. Members Eastman, Bennett, and Pai supported the amendment; all other members voted against it.

.  It also allows $589,000 to convert the Maplewood Middle School home economics room into a technology lab, among other projects. 

This is the first year that the Board of Education does not submit their budget to the Board of School Estimate. Thus the Board sets the tax levy.

Board member Wayne Eastman was in the minority in saying he felt the increase should stay at two percent. "We have to be really careful," he said about budgeting in response to interest groups.  He noted that this is "a huge budget, with hundreds of items in it." He added, "There is no one magic program, no single missing program that will bring us down."

which is the same for the 2013-14 year as in this year. The district will receive $4,075,898.

Numerous Board of Education members credited both Superintendent Brian Osborne and Schneider for their "time and effort," while expressing dismay at the totals. "There are some very difficult cuts being made," said Giles.

Andrea Wren-Harden noted that this year is the first that the Board of Education not only approves the budget, but sets the tax levy. "I am not happy with the personnel cuts and reductions, but I realize they have to be made," she said, expressing confidence that the administration will be aware of the impact of those cuts.

Bennett opposed the budget, suggesting that he has found budget areas where the district spending is "significantly" over other local districts, and other areas where the district spending is marginally above peer districts. He asked for a limit of two percent. He noted that district transportation spending is significant, and "we need to look at that going forward."

Board President Beth Daugherty noted that the next years will bring additional fiscal challenges.  She further noted that transportation studies don't suggest the level of savings Bennett seeks.

Pai echoed a call for a two-percent limit on tax impacts. "For the future of our towns, we have to have a strong school district," said Pai, "but we have to keep our towns financially viable."

Osborne noted that "the budget is submitted with the deepest respect for the taxpayer impact."  He further noted that a "painful" cut is the loss of curriculum specialist positions.  Members of the public and teaching colleagues agreed, addressing the Board in support of the specialists.

What happens next:

March 5:    BOE will present preliminary budget to the Maplewood Township Committee

March 11:    BOE will present preliminary budget to South Orange Village Board of Trustees

March 18:    Regular BOE meeting

March 27:    BOE public hearing and action on the 2013-14 school tax levy

More budget information can be found on the district's website.

Sean March 05, 2013 at 12:08 PM
I always find it outrageous when politicians says they have made cuts but they propose even more spending! It is getting to a point where it is just getting too expensive to live in Maplewood. almost 3% more for schools (and I dont even have any kids to send to school) and now a 2.5% increase in the town's budget!!!! When are you all going to learn to live within our means?
KSSR March 05, 2013 at 12:52 PM
Sean, you're right. But this town is run by tax and spend Democrats. They have to spend more money, especially on the teachers union or they'll be voted out of office - all in the name of "education" for our children. It's all BS. Someday, hopefully soon, the residents of this town will get smart and vote these clowns out of office.
Marian Cutler March 05, 2013 at 01:54 PM
I, too, struggle with the annual hand wringing about budget cuts and threatened (in this year's case, actual) loss of teachers. Like the rest of our district, I would like to see our schools excel. But, the "business as usual" of building a budget that is/must be perpetuating past year's mistakes have/are culminating in good schools but far from great. In a dozen years of tax increases from the BoE, my tax burden isn't a "modest 3%". Taken year over year, my school tax budrsen has DOUBLED. Was it a bargain before hand? Possibly. But there are no changes within our district that warrant a full doubling of my school tax burden. To say its getting too expensive to live in these two towns is by far an understatement. Sadly, we have a sitting BoE who do not play well together. Too many votes align along "party" lines. This is no way to run a $100 million corporation. New blood. And quick.
Amy Higer March 05, 2013 at 03:01 PM
I'd like to hear specifics from the three members of the School Board who voted against the preliminary budget as to what programs they would cut to keep the tax levy at 2 percent. Is proposing to cut $25k here and $25k there really serious when the total budget is $104,473,642? It is true that eliminating any one program or item will not solve the budgetary problem. But which additional programs or items would they like to eliminate? The cuts in the preliminary budget that passed are already painful and damaging to our children. It includes layoffs. Yes, the tax increase is painful. No one is happy about that. But the locus of the blame for that should lie with the Christie administration which gave us flat funding, and seems to care very little about the quality of public education.
jim stuarts March 05, 2013 at 03:55 PM
Good for Pai, Eastman and Bennett.. I am proud I voted for you all. Way not to feel bullied by the other members who clearly vote with their allies. So transparent. Sean is correct by stating that we will be pushing people out of this district due to the high increases. Why can't we look at other ways to close this budget gap. How about living within our means? We need more qualified teachers and Library Scientists and less admins with blank checks at their disposal. 100 Million dollars is insane for a school budget for these two towns. Lets get some other people in those slots that will finally stand up and say enough is enough. Those who voted to allow this insane increase, I hope you think long and hard about your decision and how people will react when they see the school portion of their tax bill. Tax and spend is not the way to solve this issue and you all know that.
Michael Goldberg March 05, 2013 at 06:29 PM
jim stuarts - Exactly! Well stated.
Sean March 05, 2013 at 08:40 PM
If you look at the proposed budget, salaries (excluding health costs) are budgeted at $60,758,174 and elsewhere on the MSO website, it states that there are 6625 students and a ratio of about 10.6 students/faculty which means about 625 member strong faculty ~ which means an average salary of $97,213.08. That seems rather high, especially considering the school day is not 8 hours and school is only in session for about 9 months of the year.
Home Owner March 06, 2013 at 12:13 AM
PandP- I appreciate where you're going here. Perhaps let's refer to that figure as your estimate for "total compensation" which makes it easier to track against discussions of salary onlly excluding district-paid costs of benefits.
Concerned Taxpayer March 13, 2013 at 12:17 PM
Budget of $105m and 6,625 students = $16k per child !!
BOS March 13, 2013 at 12:59 PM
We need real cuts in these budgets! Makes no sense to keep dumping higher taxes on the homeowners of MW and SO. If you have positions earning $100-$300,000 for a nine mth schedule(plus 20 more holidays)+pension and benefits...it doesn't take long before you get to $100mm.
Scott Brinston March 21, 2013 at 08:25 PM
In these tough economic times home owners cannot afford to pay additional taxes period. South Orange alone pays some of the highest property taxes in the nation. Spending $16 K per student is absolutely outrageous and so is a $105 million budget for these two small towns. Thank you Pai, Eastman and Bennett for sticking up for the rights of homeowners.
voice of sanity March 21, 2013 at 09:22 PM
Anyone feeling that 16K per child is not enough is free to independently donate additional monies to the School Board. Leave the rest of us out of it. We are not your pocket book.

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