Board of Ed adopts budget, 28 jobs cut

Photo by Carlos Sanchez
Several Columbia High School students spoke during the the Board of Education meeting to ask the board not to cut the school’s art and music programs.
Photo by Carlos Sanchez
Several Columbia High School students spoke during the the Board of Education meeting to ask the board not to cut the school’s art and music programs.
Photo by Carlos Sanchez
Photo by Carlos Sanchez

By Paul Brubaker
Special to the News Record

MAPLEWOOD — Board of Education members approved a $182 million budget for the 2024-2025 school year that eliminates fewer positions than was initially projected while providing funding for improved technology, security, and access and equity efforts.

The revised spending plan, adopted by the Board with a 5-4 vote eliminates 28 positions, down from the 30 to 40 positions Acting Superintendent Dr. Kevin F. Gilbert said were needed to close a $2.7 million budget deficit when the budget was introduced last month.

Since then, district officials have searched for ways to save positions by reviewing staffing in all departments and school buildings, considering general education and special education needs. Projected enrollments and whether positions were state-mandated were also among the considerations, as well as trying to minimize the impact on classroom instruction and students’ social-emotional well-being.

Staff retirements, resignations, and non-renewals also helped reduce the number of eliminated positions.

The loss of 28 positions would impact 10 employees, Gilbert said. The 10 employees to be impacted will be determined by using the “Last In, First Out” principle.
“Many people made difficult decisions to help mitigate the number of positions lost and minimize the impact on classroom instruction,” said Gilbert. “I am grateful to everyone who assisted in these efforts, and I appreciate their keeping the interests of our students first and foremost in their minds.”

The budget’s tax impact will be a $255 increase on a home at Maplewood’s average assessed value of $804,789 and a $527 increase on a home at South Orange’s average assessed value of $879,000. The Essex County Board of Taxation determined the average assessed values based on recent revaluations of properties in Maplewood and South Orange.

If approved by the state, the 2024-2025 budget would result in an overall tax levy increase of 1.66 percent, from $141 million to $143 million.

The 2024-2025 budget includes $2.8 million for technology, including new Chromebooks, infrastructure for new construction in the district, and security cameras and access equipment. It also includes funding for the continued implementation of the K-2 English Language Arts curriculum, and the implementation of recommendations made by Rutgers University’s Disproportionality and Disparity Lab, commonly referred to as “the Fergus report.”

Among the most significant budgetary challenges that made a reduction in force necessary were a $5.3 million increase in payroll and benefits costs and a $1.57 million increase in the cost of paraprofessionals, officials said. The challenges have grown through recent years. Since the 2020-2021 school year, the cost of employee health benefits jumped more than 50 percent, or $6.5 million. Meanwhile, since the 2019-2020 school year – the year the pandemic shutdown began – the cost of paraprofessionals climbed 82 percent, or $4.6 million.

The approved budget includes a $3.7 million reduction in total federal, state, and local funds. In an attempt to offset this significant revenue loss, Gilbert has appealed to the state legislature for an additional $4.2 million in state funding.

Within days of this Board’s approval of the preliminary budget, Gilbert testified before the state Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee and the state Assembly Budget Committee to make the case for additional aid.

Gilbert thanked state Assemblywoman Garnet Hall ­– a Maplewood resident whose two children attended SOMSD schools – for meeting to discuss the request. Gilbert is scheduled to meet with state Sen. Renee Burgess in May.