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School Budget Passes, with Counselor Position on Chopping Block

"The cuts are painful," Superintendent says, as students from both South Orange and Maplewood spoke out to protest cutting a school assistant counselor position.

The South Orange - Maplewood Board of Education passed a budget on Thursday that will see taxes rise in South Orange and Maplewood, despite personnel and other cuts. The budget passed 5 - 2, with Jeffrey Bennett and Wayne Eastman opposed. Two members were absent.

Twith an operating budget with a 2.47% tax impact and an "all-in" total tax impact of 2.93%.

Among the cuts is a Student Assistant Counselor; numerous students and the man who now has that job spoke out to protest the cut.  Columbia High School senior Ellie Williams gave an impassioned plea to the board both on Monday and again on Thursday to save the position of Student Assistant Counselor. Williams gave the board a petition signed by nearly 600 students and parents.

Philip Lester, one of the SAC counselors, told board members on Monday that eliminating one of the positions would be a "reckless" decision. He said students with substance abuse and other issues would be left with no recourse.

"Serving kids in an emotional crisis allows the district to thrive. They're not recognizing that," he said at the meeting. He spoke again on Thursday.

Superintendent Brian Osborne noted the students' strong feelings in introducing the budget. "The cuts are painful," he said. However, Osborne noted that Columbia High School has more guidance department staff than ever before.

The board is currently addressing a $2.8 million shortfall in the 2013-14 budget.  Board President Beth Daugherty addressed the "distressing" outlook, noting that she and Osborne made presentations to both Maplewood and South Orange governing bodies. Daughterty said she hopes to work with both towns on "strategic budgeting."  She said that such budgeting is, "not a silver bullet, but will help."

Final figures on tax impact per household are still to be determined. The district is awaiting figures from the county.

Michael Paris March 22, 2013 at 02:31 PM
I attended the BOE meeting last night. Several board members--Sandy Karriem, Andrea Wren-Harden, David Giles, Beth Daugherty, and student member Jonah Wolff--all expressed their gratitude to the SAC counsellor and the many high school students who testified. Superintendent Osborne also expressed his appreciation, as he did on Monday night too. Many students shared personal, moving stories. These board members and the Superintendent all indicated that the budget sets a limit, and that it is possible to make adjustments after passage. All stated that they would follow up to make sure that students' needs at the high school are being met. They didn't get more specific than that. The students made their point, and they were heard. What they did will probably make a difference in how the budget is implemented. It should be noted that there was more "banked cap" that could have, and perhaps should have been, used to meet pressing needs. I have a particular interest in special education, and special education took the brunt of the cuts, with 6 positions being eliminated. The "2% limit" was not a legal limit this year, given adjustments permitted by the state. The BOE majority chose NOT to use all the taxing and spending authority that it actually had. It could have taxed more and spent more than it did. It balanced student needs with the needs of the taxpayers.
We the People March 22, 2013 at 04:01 PM
How touching. Did those also members express gratitude to the taxpayers who foot the bill for everything?
Allison Anderson March 22, 2013 at 10:25 PM
Any budget vote is hard, the board members aren't heartless. But, who were the absent members on a budget vote?
Michael Paris March 22, 2013 at 11:35 PM
Mr. Gaudelli could not be there. He made his views known Monday night. He would have voted with the majority (Crawford, Daugherty, Giles, Karriem, and Wren-Hardin). Ms. Pai had a medical emergency and could not attend. She would have voted with the minority (Mr. Bennett and Mr. Eastman). Mr. Eastman read a statement of her views. No board member is heartless. I should note that in my comment above I neglected to include Mr. Bennett among those BOE members who expressed appreciation for the students and noted an interest in seeing to it that the CHS students needs were met in the process of implementing the budget. Reasonable people can disagree about whether the tax increase should have been over 2.47%, just at 2.47%, or less than that amount. I do think that the minority of 3 members who would have voted for lower tax amount (2% as opposed to 2.47%) had a responsibility to specify what additional cuts they would have made to the budget. To my knowledge, none of three voting "no" on the extra .47% in taxes have spelled this out in any detail.
Andrew Lee March 23, 2013 at 03:12 PM
Board Member M. Pai had a medical emergency. She wrote a statement that another Board member read out loud at the meeting.

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