West Orange BOE votes to send preliminary budget to the county

Business Administrator Tonya Flowers presents the 2021-2022 budget at a March 18 BOE special meeting.

WEST ORANGE, NJ — The West Orange Board of Education unanimously approved the 2021-2022 preliminary budget at a special meeting on March 18, after being presented with an updated version of the budget by Superintendent Scott Cascone and Business Administrator Tonya Flowers. The 1.5-percent tax increase in the district remains, but the total budget was reduced slightly, to $177,292,506 from $177,823,032.

According to Flowers, $1.5 million is being added to the 2021-2022 budget from this year’s surplus, because of the COVID-19 pandemic school closures and the resulting decrease in expenditures. The $1.5 million will be used for tax relief.

“I think it’s important to note that recently a law has been passed by Gov. Murphy that will allow districts to maintain up to 4 percent of a surplus,” Flowers said at the meeting. “Currently, budgets are able to be passed with up to 2 percent. But because of where we are in the budget calendar and where it was when this law was passed, it’s not going to affect this budget. We’re waiting for more details from the Department of Education concerning this increase.”

In the adjusted presentation, salaries have increased and are the largest expenditure in the budget, at 57.35 percent of the total, or $101,668,359. Benefits, the second most expensive line item in the budget, will cost $28,357,896, or 15.99 percent of the budget.

Despite the increase in salaries, some staff positions will still be cut. According to Cascone, one administrator will be cut based on restructuring. Nine certificate full-time positions and 12 noncertificate full-time positions will also be cut. There will be a 20-percent reduction in instructional supplies and a 10-percent reduction in noninstructional supplies.

Even with the cuts, some new positions will be added in the next school year: one occupational therapist, one behavioral disorder program teacher, one autism program teacher, one language learning disability teacher, one fifth-grade teacher, two interventionists, one special education resource room teacher and one part-time noncertificate special education teacher.

“I know some folks will say, ‘How can we possibly consider adding staff at this time?’” Cascone said at the meeting. “I think there’s a misconception that because we’re trying to operate in a fiscally conservative mode, that we don’t incur additional needs, that our needs stop because we want to be fiscally conservative. And the reality of it is that’s just not the case. That’s where we are here.”

The capital projects included in the budget total $300,000. The projects include repairing a structural wall at Gregory Elementary School, a roof replacement on the kitchen at Mount Pleasant Elementary School, a roof replacement on the cafeteria at West Orange High School and a roof replacement on the media center at Edison Middle School.

“Why do we prioritize these roof replacements?” Cascone said. “It’s not to say that they’re the only priorities in our plan. Water penetration is perhaps one of the most serious fiscal plant issues. Not only is a leaking roof something that in itself needs repair, but it leads to compounding physical plant issues. Not only interior structure damage, but also the possibility of mold.”

The capital projects ordinarily would have been funded out of the general budget, but were shifted into the capital reserve budget, which saved the district $300,000.

The approved preliminary budget was sent to the county after the meeting; the district expects to receive approval from the county by April 20. A public hearing on the final budget will be held at the BOE meeting on May 3.