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.