Board of Education passes preliminary budget

Photo by Amanda Valentovic
The West Orange Board of Education meets on May 7 at Liberty Middle School.

WEST ORANGE, NJ — The West Orange Board of Education unanimously passed the 2018-2019 preliminary budget at its May 7 meeting at Liberty Middle School. The preliminary operating budget totals $149,186,427. Salaries make up 63 percent of the district’s operating costs at $94,315,752. Benefits and special education services combined take up approximately 24 percent of the budget; benefits cost the district $24,439,256 and special services cost $12,116,317.

The total tax levy increase for the 2018-2019 budget is 1.67 percent, which is below the state-mandated tax cap of 2 percent. The additional $1,531,011 that the district could be raising through taxes will become banked cap, available to the district for the next three years. The average homeowner, based on assessed property values, will pay an additional $224.29 annually in school taxes.

The district anticipates receiving $158,371,470 in revenue during the year, with 89.12 percent of that coming from local taxes. It will receive $10,705,584 in state aid; $3,100,691 in federal and state-restricted aid; $2,500,000 in budgeted fund balance; and $912,195 in tuition and miscellaneous revenue.

According to West Orange Board of Education business administrator John Calavano, transportation for special education is included in the special services portion of the budget. There is $6,065,844 dedicated to transportation for regular education. Operations, maintenance and security make up just under 4 percent of the budget, with $5,918,842 being spent during the year. The district will spend slightly less on instruction and support, with $5,912,792 set aside. Capital outlay takes up $280,196 of the budget, while students who attend charter schools outside West Orange will receive $137,428 from the district.

“We’re actually under the cap and this goes into the bank to use over the next three years,” Calavano said at the first budget presentation at the BOE’s April 9 meeting.

The district built in some additions to the budget for the next year, and most notably will be conducting a safety and security audit. An outside business will evaluate each school building and report how the district can better protect students and staff.

“They’ll tell us if we have any soft spots in our security,” Superintendent Jeffrey Rutzky said at the April 9 meeting. “They’ll evaluate the inside and outside and do traffic reports. We will also be upgrading doors so that staff has cards that will open them; those who are not employees have to go to the front door and prove who they are.”

At the May 7 meeting, Rutzky said the budget will also be enhancing “man traps” in each school building. “Man traps” create an entryway at the front of the school with two sets of doors, preventing an intruder from entering the school and allowing them to leave only through the doors they entered.

“There’s two schools that currently do not have them,” Rutzky said on May 7. “One is St. Cloud and the other is Mount Pleasant. The other ones are in place, we’re going to make some adjustments to that, and we’re certainly going to begin that process very soon. We’re looking at starting this year with Mount Pleasant and then obviously moving over to St. Cloud, and over the summertime enhancing the other ones so next year when we start off we can make sure that we have all of those man traps in place.”

BOE President Ron Charles acknowledged the community’s influence on the 2018-2019 budget, saying that the security enhancements are a result of a meeting held in February on school safety.

“Those items were borne out of the town hall meeting and the survey,” Charles said at the May 7 meeting. “I want to thank the public for their input on that, because that is a perfect example of a partnership between the community, the board and the administration.

“So I want to thank the public for that and I wish to continue their input on other items.”

Ten new teachers will also be hired for the 2018-2019 school year: a general education teacher at the elementary school level, seven special education teachers across the district, one gifted and talented teacher at the elementary level, and one SAT prep teacher at the high school.

New programs built into the budget include a behavioral disabilities program. According to Rutzky, one intended benefit of this new program is that West Orange students currently receiving similar programming outside the district will be able to return to WOSD schools.

“We do not have this in the district and we can be cost effective and educate students in their district,” he said at the April 9 meeting.

A summer school program will also be implemented, as well as the addition of two new buses and 350 new Chromebooks for students to use. The high school will see new sports teams available; boys’ volleyball will now be an option, as well as fencing for both boys and girls.

Rutzky also addressed possible cuts to the teaching staff; the budget accounts for eight teachers districtwide being laid off, as well as three paraprofessionals. According to Rutzky, these reductions are not set in stone, but are being kept as a possibility, should the need arise and based on class-size adjustments.

“We look at the number of students and determine the number of teachers we need. We will adjust if we need to,” the superintendent said at the April 9 meeting. “September is a long time from now. This is a living document, so we work through that from April to September.”

At the May 7 meeting, Rutzky said that the district will do everything possible to rehire staff members, should their positions be cut due to budget constraints, giving them first consideration for jobs that open as a result of retirements or teachers moving out of the district.

Board Vice President Mark Robertson said May 7 that he would like to see the district apply for additional corporate and foundation grants.

“I know we’ve researched grants for two years now,” he said. “Do we anticipate something developing with that? It’s funding, it’s money left on the table. It’s funding that we could bring in that could reduce the reliance on taxpayer dollars.”

Rutzky said Assistant Superintendent Eveny de Mendez and other administrators have looked into obtaining grants and continue to do so, to provide additional funding to the district in the future.