BOE approves $125 million budget, cuts 15 from staff

SOUTH ORANGE / MAPLEWOOD, NJ — Despite approving the use of banked cap at the March 21 meeting, the South Orange-Maplewood Board of Education was unable to avoid some substantial cuts, including 15 full-time staff positions.

At its May 2 meeting, the board voted to pass the 2015-2016 school district budget on second reading with a vote of 7-2; board members Johanna Wright and Donna Smith voted against it. Smith had voted for the budget on first reading March 21, though she had voted against using the $409,103 in banked cap.

With revenue sources such as local taxes, state and federal aid and programs, debt service, tuition, fund balance and capital reserve — and now the addition of banked cap — district business Administrator Cheryl Schneider said the proposed revenue for the 2016-2017 school year is $125,740,404, which is $2,145,624 more than that of the current school year.

The $125 million school budget will raise taxes by 2.43 percent. Under state law, local taxes cannot increase more than 2 percent for the operating budget. This of course leaves the frequently used loophole that it can exceed the 2-percent cap for other areas of the budget.

At a 2-percent operating budget, the tax levy cap would be $111,317,574, but with the added debt service of $3,844,298 and the banked cap, that percentage bumps up to 2.43, according to Schneider. At this estimate, based on 2015 figures, the average Maplewood household would pay approximately $226 more per year in taxes, while the average South Orange household would pay approximately $249 more, though Schneider explained in February that these numbers would likely equalize after the appeals process. According to the district, the average Maplewood home will be paying approximately $15 more per year than the 2-percent cap, and the average South Orange home will pay about $18 more per year.

Earlier in the budget process, Superintendent John Ramos had said that using the banked cap would be a “painful option” for the district, as it would add to the operating budget — an addition that would likely need to be maintained the following year without that banked cap on which to rely. The $409,103 of banked cap from the 2013-2014 school year, if the board had not decided to use it, would have disappeared after this year, as there is a three-year limit on banked cap.

Despite raising taxes and using banked cap, there are still some drastic staffing cuts coming. While the district had originally been discussing cutting 19 or 20 staff members, the banked cap was able to save some of those jobs, specifically at the elementary school level. Nevertheless, the district is planning to reduce its workforce by 15 positions.

At the districtwide level, two supervisors and one secretary will be cut, while a learning disabilities teacher consultant is being added to deal with increased number of special education referrals; this leaves a district net reduction of two positions. At the elementary school level, one instructional coach is being cut, but three classroom teachers and one special education teacher are being added, leaving the elementary level with a net increase of three positions. At the middle school level, two teachers and one media specialist are being cut, with one behavioral specialist being added; this leaves a net reduction of two positions at the middle school level.

And, at the high school, there will be no additions, however there will be a net reduction of 14 positions, including one guidance counselor, one media specialist, one dean, two deans’ secretaries and nine teachers — two math, two science, one English language arts, one social studies, one physical education and two world languages.