Chatham Board of Education Reviews Proposed Budget

Superintendent Dr. Michael LaSusa, left, talks about the details of the proposed budget. Credits: Alexandra Lubischer

CHATHAM, NJ - The Chatham superintendent gave a public presentation of the proposed budget at a meeting on Monday night prior to the board’s regular meeting.

Dr. Michael LaSusa’s presentation was a “big picture” overview of the school district’s proposed budget. He said the budget is meant to balance the needs of both the students and the administrators and to show its effect
on the tax levy.

There are 14 towns in Morris County that have school districts that are K-12. Chatham is second to Dover in spending the least per capita. Chatham also has the highest amount of advanced placement students and SAT scores in this group. Chatham, however, is at the bottom of these groupings in relation to towns that border it, such as Millburn, New Providence, Summit, Madison and Livingston, although these towns are not all in Morris County.

One of the largest areas for the budget is the continuous growth of the high school over three-year periods. Projections for the year 2020 indicate that the enrollment at the high school should begin to taper off and thus level out. However, making preparations for the schools current growth rate is underway, both in staffing and
building structure.

Last year only one new staff member was added to the district. This year, the hope is to add staff members to six departments, including math and science, although not all may be full-time.

Additionally, “Phase II” of the high school expiation project is proposed to begin. Four new classrooms are most likely going to be added to the school, to better accommodate the growing student body and eight classrooms total is the goal. The classrooms, which are likely to be added next year, will cost approximately $2.7 million. Four classrooms were completed two years ago in “Phase I” of the project.

Having a wide verity of extracurricular activities was also a large topic of discussion in the budget, for many reasons, such as students' mental health.

“It keeps kids invested in the schools,” said LaSusa. Many activities were proposed to be expanded including, but not limited to: track, swimming, dance, business leaders and intermural. Many of these activities currently have volunteer advisors. It is estimated that expanding these activities in different capacities will cost about $96,000.

While on the topic of student health, LaSusa brought up student safety. The board emphasized that they are continuing to explore a vast range of security options to ensure student safety.

LaSusa explained his three-pronged approach for student health and safety:

Prong 1: extracurricular
Prong 2: add more (at least three) counselors, especially a Middle School Assistance Counselor
Prong 3: more security officers. These security staff members would be ideally ex-military or law enforcement and they would become failure with the routines of their designated schools. A director of safety and security position may even be made to also aide the district. LaSusa commented that this person “would act as another pair of eyes,” and would be known to the students and staff.

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It was suggested by board member Al Brugnder, who is not part of the finance committee, that a separate capital budget be implemented for event that may suddenly arise or future changes that may need to be made.

Ultimately, the main topic of the night was how the district's budget will impact taxes in the township and the borough.

According to state law, the towns cannot raise taxes more than two percent, unless several exception stipulations are met. Over the last few years the Chathams have met these exceptions and taxes have been increased over the two percent cap.

On Thursday the state is scheduled to provide the towns with their expected aide grants following an announcement by Governor Chris Christie on Tuesday.  A maximum 4.13 percent increase in school taxes is possible.

There were four possible scenarios posed by LaSusa with differing tax increases:

1. Cut staff from high school only = 2.4 percent increase
2. The district completes all projects and proposed changes/improvements = 3.4 percent iincrease
3. Increase the high school and special education staff = 2.6 percent increase.
4. The board does not use any of the above.

The need for generator equipment has not been forgotten by the board after Super Storm Sandy, but was omitted from the budget as many options are still being examined. Also, omitted was the language department from K-3 students.

The next open finance meeting will be held on March 11.

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