The new school year has just begun, but the South Orange-Maplewood Board of Education is already grappling with the 2013-14 school budget.
, board members discussed using previously banked cap to create a budget that would increase the tax levy over the state-mandated 2% cap – or facing the potential of cuts in personnel and programs.
It is a “very high stakes conversation,” said Superintendent Brian Osborne. He said the district had exhausted its options for trimming costs through outsourcing, cutting benefits to paraprofessionals and other measures. There’s not “another $1 million flip” in the system, he said.
“There are no magic solutions on the horizon to our fiscal challenges,” said Osborne. “We are once again looking at the possibility of cuts.”
The student elementary school population rose 15% in the last four years, which will mean full classes at both middle schools. In addition, the district will need to hire seven new teachers to staff and plan for a .
“The tax stress is very, very real,” the Superintendent said, but “there’s a connection also between a community’s desirability and the quality of its public schools.” He added, “We need resources to meet our kids’ needs.”
Currently, South Orange-Maplewood has $1.5 million left on its banked cap from previous years that it can use to raise the tax levy up to 3.5% for the 2013-2014 budget year, $960,000 of which will expire if not used.
However, the higher amount will go into the base. "Two percent next year means more than 2% this year, because it’s 2% on a higher number,” said Daugherty.
Also, if , it would alter the voting authority of the and give the Board of Education the final taxing authority.
Either way, Daugherty said, the BOE needs to come up with a budget number they are “willing to fight for and explain.”
“I shudder at the thought of having to impose a larger tax burden on the community,” said Madhu Pai, who asked Osborne if he could provide more detail on what cuts are on the table. David Giles and Jeffrey Bennett agreed on the need for more information.
Giles said he would find it difficult to support a 2% cap without knowing the potential “tradeoffs.” Bennett said he will consider going to 2 ¼%.
“We are going to be cutting people and we are going to be cutting programs,” said Andrea Wren-Hardin, who said she would find it difficult not to use the portion of the banked cap that will have to be otherwise forfeited.
Bill Gaudelli said he was open to going over the cap because the district’s restraint in recent years has created a “backlog of need.” Sandra Karriem said she would not want to go over 3%, while Wayne Eastman said he would prefer to stay at 2%.
Daugherty said she might consider going over the cap by “a very small amount.”
The board agreed to determine a number at its September 24th meeting, after they learn more information about the district’s capital plan, which would impact debt service and therefore affect the overall tax increase.