It's a busy time in the South Orange-Maplewood School District, as the Board of Education (BOE) is in the thick of budget discussions for the 2013-14 school year. The board has been discussing the upcoming budget since the beginning of this school year.
The next board meeting is on Monday, Jan. 28 at 7:30 p.m. (in the District Meeting Room at 525 Academy St.)
If you'd like to get up to speed before then, here is a brief summary of what's going on in the district:
State of the District
Superintendent Brian Osborne recently gave his annual State of the District address; for more information click here.
International Baccalaureate/Middle Years Program
The district is currently training teachers and staff in anticipation of launching the IB/MYP program to sixth graders in September. At the most recent board meeting on Dec. 17, both schools' principals and two instructional coaches provided an update on the program. Among other things, they highlighted the ways in which the program is aligned with the Common Core standards.
The board will devote ample time to budget issues both internally and at public meetings until they vote on it in March. The most recent budget documents can be found here.
Now that the board it -- as opposed to the Board of School Estimate -- is the final authority on the operating budget. In addition, although many board members have expressed a desire to remain within the state-mandated 2% cap, the district has banked cap it may use ($975,000 of which will expire if not used this year).
Four key budget areas the members are reviewing are a) Health Care Costs, which continue to rise by double digits each year; b) projects the District Management Council (DMC) is addressing including the core reading program, inclusion of special education students, a special education financial management system and the Montrose School; c) the Maplewood Middle School addition and d) Technology.
Technology costs for 2013-14 are currently estimated to total approximately $2.7 million. "Technology is changing daily," said Business Administrator Cheryl Schneider at the most recent BOE meeting, and the district's needs continue to grow.
Capital Plan and the CHS Expansion
The board put plans for building an Aquatic Center and additional classrooms at Columbia High School on hold after learning it would cost only $30,000 (less than originally anticipated) to repair the pool to make it usable for at least the next school year. Also, the board felt there hadn't been enough time to consult with the community on the larger proposal.
However, said Schneider, enrollment projections continue to rise and the need for more space at the high school will be pressing in the next several years.
At the recent Board of School Estimate (BSE) meeting on Jan. 3, Finance and Facilities Chair Andrea Wren-Hardin emphasized the importance of long-range planning to ensure the district could adequately serve students in the future.
The district has been working to identify critical capital projects throughout the district since early 2011, and renewing the buildings and grounds of Columbia High School is a priority.
The question is "What do we want Columbia High School to be," asked Board President Beth Daugherty at the Dec. 17 meeting. She said the district is at a "tipping point" with the high school and will need to make decisions in the upcoming year in time for the next bonding cycle.
Maplewood Middle School Expansion
Work is beginning and will be completed in time for the 2013-14 school year. Although an additional 100-120 students are expected to enter middle school next year, Schneider explained at first only some of the extra classrooms will be used, but within five years -- when the current enrollment "bubble" makes its way through the system -- all of the rooms will be full.