WOBOE passes $171.3M budget

WEST ORANGE, NJ — The West Orange Board of Education unanimously passed the school district’s 2020–2021 budget at its May 4 virtual meeting, approving a $171,399,914 budget that will raise taxes by $23.03 per month for the average West Orange resident. Taxes bring in the bulk of the district’s revenue at $141,491,179.

The district is supposed to receive $17,826,168 in state aid and $3,229,122 in federal and state restricted aid, which Superintendent of Schools Scott Cascone said at the meeting could be affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The state has extended their fiscal year to Sept. 30,” Cascone said at the meeting. “Our fiscal year in public schools begins on July 1. The state has previously provided us with an allocation for our state aid, and the West Orange schools get about $16 million in state aid. In essence, what we’ve heard is, because of the lost revenues in the state from sales tax, tolls and also the increased amount of funds which have been outgoing to assist with the ongoing crisis on a number of different levels, that the coffers of the state are not going to be what they expected and this could potentially impact our state aid.”

According to Cascone, it is difficult to predict how much state aid the district will receive, in addition to any federal aid it might receive. The district may not know the correct amount until as late as August.

“We could lose millions of dollars in what was previously counted-on revenue and find ourselves in a position where we now need to make that up,” Cascone said. “If we talk about cutting this budget any further, what that means is that if we lose state aid, we actually have less local money with which to offset that loss. That means more draconian and drastic cuts that would need to be made.”

The budgeted fund balance will bring the district $2 million, and tuition paid to WOSD by out-of-district students studying in West Orange will bring in $771,419, rounding out the operating budget. The local tax levy for debt service that the WOSD will make is $5,348,967, state aid for debt service will bring in $733,057 and the budgeted fund balance will make $2.

The largest expenditure in the budget is salaries, taking up 58.05 percent at $99,989,402. At $25,794,420, benefits cost the district the second most amount of money. According to Business Administrator John Calavano, the 15.05 percent of the budget that pays for benefits includes health insurance, workers’ compensation, Social Security and pension payments for noncertificate employees.

There was a $400,000 increase in the budget from the preliminary presentation to the final approval from the general tax levy fund.

Included in the 2020–2021 budget is money for 2,800 Chromebooks to continue to support the one-to-one initiative, 125 laptops for teachers and 60 desktop computers for other staff members. There are also capital projects built into the budget: lighting system upgrades at Liberty Middle School; a main water line replacement at St. Cloud Elementary School; roof replacements on the St. Cloud gymnasium; retaining wall replacements at Hazel Elementary School; and a chimney replacement at Kelly Elementary School.

Maintenance projects will also be done in 2020–2021. At West Orange High School, the floors in Tarnoff Cafeteria will be recoated, while the floors inside the school’s Pleasant Valley Way entrance will be repaired and resurfaced. The furniture in Edison Middle School’s library will be replaced, and the skylights will be removed at Roosevelt Middle School while the roof is repaired. There will be floor replacements at all schools in the district.

Seventeen positions will be added to the district: four special education teachers, nine special education paraprofessionals, one districtwide floater nurse, two academic support teachers for grades seven and eight, and one French teacher.

There are some areas where the budget has been reduced or eliminated. They include in-district professional development, out-of-district professional development, substitutes due to the reduced professional development, summer printing, dues to organizations, author visits, advertising for job vacancies, construction projects and vehicles.

Fifteen full-time educators will be eliminated from the district due to staffing efficiencies, and 10 full-time educators will be eliminated because of reductions in classroom enrollment.

“We did this trying to have as limited an impact on programs and instruction as possible,” Cascone said. “In some cases we tried to minimize the number of people who were losing their jobs by sliding them into other positions.”

He added that, in years to come, the district will have to find ways to become leaner and more efficient in how the district runs its programs, without compromising what it offers.

However, the district is saving money through various shared services. It is part of three purchasing groups: Ed Data Services, the Educational Services Commission of New Jersey and Hunterdon County Educational Services, which is also a transportation service. Other transportation-related shared services include the Essex Regional Education Services Commission and the Sussex County Regional Transportation Cooperative. For professional development, the district works with the Morris Union Jointure.

The district shares services for fuel, road salt, facility usage, emergency shelter and lining of fields with the township.

“There are some things I am happy to see in the budget, and cutting staff is never one of them,” BOE Vice President Terry Trigg-Scales said at the meeting. “But I see where we are adding staff, so needs change over time. Even though we are cutting some staff, the needs have changed, and it’s important that we add another area.”