West Orange BOE passes budget, will raise taxes by 2.42 percent

Interim Superintendent C. Lauren Schoen presents the final 2022-2023 school district budget at a West Orange Board of Education meeting on May 9.

WEST ORANGE, NJ — The West Orange Board of Education passed the West Orange School District’s 2022-2023 budget at a meeting on May 9, finalizing the total of $183,864,691. The budget passed unanimously. There will be a tax impact of 2.42 percent, which is an increase over last year’s budget by a monthly average of $18.14 for the average homeowner in West Orange.

As interim Superintendent C. Lauren Schoen explained at the meeting, the increase is covering rising expenses in the district. Staff salaries will increase by 3.4 percent and health benefits for staff will increase by 10 percent. The cost of out-of-district tuition will increase by between 8 and 10 percent, while transportation for out-of-district students will increase by 30 percent. Transportation costs within the district will increase by 5 percent.

“When we can only go up about 2 percent on our budget, there is often a need to go up more than that,” Schoen said at the meeting. “These are examples of those expenditures.”

According to Schoen, all current staff and all current instructional, extracurricular and athletic programs are being retained. Capital projects include HVAC replacements at Roosevelt Middle School, Edison Middle School and Hazel Elementary School; retaining walls at Hazel and Washington Elementary School; roof replacements at the Gregory Elementary School gym and West Orange High School cafeteria; new intercom systems for RMS and Mount Pleasant Elementary School; the gym floor replacement at RMS; the stage floor replacement at WOHS; the main entrance frame at RMS; and the kiss-and-go lane at Mount Pleasant. The total capital budget is $2,318,493.

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.

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 closely 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.

“We pretty much have three major areas that control a significant portion of our budget,” Schoen said. “We have salaries, benefits and special education, which is inclusive of transportation.”

As Schoen explained at the March 24 meeting to introduce the budget, WOSD made room in the budget to allow for the hiring of more staff in the upcoming year: a third-grade teacher at Hazel, a world language teacher, two 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 preschool disabilities program will hire an occupational therapist, a speech therapist, a behaviorist, a child study team member and three preschool teachers.

“Our tax levy represents almost 80 percent of how we fund our programs and our staff,” Schoen said when speaking about the district’s revenue. “Our second biggest area, which is state aid, represents almost 16 percent.”

WOSD will receive $29,372,985 in state aid for next school year’s budget. It is an increase from the 2021-2022 budget by $9,103,694. Now that the BOE has passed the budget, it will be sent to the county for approval next.