Schoen presents preliminary West Orange School District budget

West Orange interim Superintendent Lauren Schoen discusses the preliminary 2022-2023 budget at a Board of Education meeting on March 24.

WEST ORANGE, NJ — The West Orange Board of Education was presented with the preliminary 2022-2023 budget at a special meeting on March 24, starting the annual budget-approval process for next school year. According to new interim Superintendent Lauren Schoen at her first meeting as the temporary head of the district, the district is expecting a budget of $183,864,691 in 2022-2023.

As it usually is, the largest portion of the budget is spent on salaries; $107,738,876 for salaries makes up 58.6 percent of the total. Benefits take up 16.61 percent of the budget, at a cost of $30,534,951, while special education, including transportation, rounds out the top three most expensive line items at $21,354,291.

“Those top three areas take up a whole bunch of our budget, and most of it is locked in,” Schoen said. “We can’t really control that.”

The district will be spending $7,274,517 on operations, maintenance and security, which are all under the same line-item umbrella. Instruction and support follow close behind with a budget of $7,098,203. General education transportation will cost $6,504,903, and capital outlay will cost $2,890,508. The smallest line item in the budget, charter school tuition, will cost $468,442 next school year.

WOSD was notified on March 10 that it would receive $29,372,985 in state aid, which is an increase of $9,103,694 from last year’s state aid funding.

“Instead of having to lose $9.2 million, we had to reduce our budget by $200,000,” Schoen said, saying the district did still leave out hiring several new staff members to reduce costs. “That is a game changer. We did remove the assistant principal at Kelly, we did remove the special education supervisor from kindergarten to fifth grade and we did remove a request for a world language teacher. Those three positions equated to about $277,000.”

There will, however, be additions to the staff next year: the district has budgeted for a new third-grade teacher at Hazel Elementary School, a new world language teacher, two new English as a second language teachers and three new special education teachers. An emotional regulation impairment teacher will be hired for Redwood Elementary School, in addition to a resource teacher at St. Cloud Elementary School, a social studies teacher at West Orange High School and 11 paraprofessionals for the district. The schools to which the paraprofessionals will be assigned will be determined by need. The preschool disabilities program will hire an occupational therapist, a speech therapist, a behaviorist, a child study team member and three preschool teachers. All current staff will be retained.

“Our budget also includes much-needed capital improvement projects,” Schoen said. “We truly believe we should make a significant investment in our infrastructure. These projects equate to about $2.4 million.”

Capital projects were broken into three categories: HVAC, structural, and health and safety. HVAC projects include classroom ventilator controls, air unit replacements, and reheat coil and control valve replacements at Roosevelt Middle School, and air unit replacements at Edison Middle School. The total HVAC capital budget cost will be $299,143.

The structural capital budget, which totals $1,629,350, includes the retaining wall and exterior masonry at Washington Elementary School, the retaining wall and affected playground at Hazel, the roof of the cafeteria at WOHS, and the roof of the gym at Gregory Elementary School.

New intercom systems fall under the health and safety category for RMS and Mount Pleasant Elementary School, costing $75,000 each. The RMS gym floor replacement will cost $100,000, and the WOHS stage floor replacement will cost $110,000. The last $105,000 in the capital budget is reserved for the Mount Pleasant kiss-and-go lane and the main entrance door frame at RMS.

“Health and safety is equally important, as is the ability to communicate with our students and staff, hence the reason for Roosevelt and Mount Pleasant’s intercom systems,” Schoen said. “The high school stage floor is much needed. Our wonderful maintenance department keeps doing all that they can, but that room and environment is just so awesome that the stage needs to reflect that.”

There will be a tax levy of 2.42 percent this year in the WOSD budget for an average monthly increase of $18.14 per average homeowner. Using allowable exceptions, the district is going above the 2-percent cap, which enables the district to sustain a higher base for future budgets.

“If we go below that 2 percent, we need to always realize that our annual expenses will always exceed the 2-percent cap,” Schoen said. “So if we only go up to 2 percent, and everything goes up higher than that 2 percent, we’re already going to be in a place where we’re going to have to reduce. Those reductions are not going to be materials or instructional supplies. The only way for us to reach that deficit is going to be staff and programming.”

The preliminary budget was submitted to the county on March 28 and is expected to be approved by April 20. A budget work session is planned for April 28, and a public hearing for adoption of the final budget is scheduled for May 9.