Millburn Board of Education Adopts $88.3 Million Budget for 2014-2015

Temple B'Nai Jeshurun Senior Rabbi Matthew D. Gewirtz addresses the issue of religious holidays in Millburn schools. Credits: Bob Faszczewski
Millburn High School Guidance Director Nancy Siegel gives a presentation on guidance services at Monday's Millburn Board of Education meeting. Credits: Bob Faszczewski

MILLBURN, NJ - An $88,288,998 2014-2015 school year budget, including $79,275,406 to be raised in local taxes in support of the spending plan, was adopted unanimously by the Millburn Board of Education on Monday.

The budget will result in a property tax increase of $114 on a home assessed at $1 million and a $227 increase in a home assessed at $2 million.

In reviewing the tab, Superintendent of Schools James Crisfield noted that $1.9 million had been trimmed from the original budget. He also said that state aid, which the board had anticipated to come in “flat” this year, brought an increase in funds from the state amounting to about $10 per student.

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He added the board chose a plan with a 2 percent tax increase, three of four planned school roofing projects will be completed this year, $800,000 will be cut from spending on technology and the budget includes an additional $200,000 taken from the fund balance that will not be available for future spending.

At the same time, the superintendent said, the school district is embracing 21st century learning.

The net staffing impact on the budget, he noted, is .69 full-time equivalent positions, with four positions eliminated and 4.69 new positions. Eliminated will be two kindergarten-to-fifth grade classroom teachers and a preschool teacher, with decreases in the number of sections, and one technology integration teacher.

The technology integration teacher elimination might be a combination of several part-time cuts to equal one full-time equivalent cut, the superintendent said.

New positions, according to Crisfield, are a fulltime Spanish teacher, converted from the position of a pre-kindergarten teacher who will be moving to another grade or position; one fulltime curriculum supervisor, converted from a technology position; one full-time equivalent psychologist for sixth to 12th grades, a kindergarten-to-fifth-grade half full-time equivalent special education teacher, a half full-time equivalent athletic trainer for kindergarten to 12th grades, a 0.40 full-time equivalent sixth-to-eighth-grade basic skills teacher and a 0.29 full-time equivalent lunch aide for kindergarten to fifth grades.

Capital projects total $2,044,502, Crisfield said, with $369,757 coming from the general fund and $1,674,745 from capital reserve.

He added the district also expected state regular operating district (RODs) grants totaling $1.1 million to offset 40 percent of the costs of the capital projects.

Projects include sports scoreboard renovations and tennis court resurfacing at the high school, concrete and paving at the middle school and the elementary school roofing projects mentioned above,

With funds being used for capital projects, the superintendent said capital reserve will drop to $30,707 by June 30, 2015.

The proposed budget, he pointed out, is an increase of 1.85 percent over the previous budget and it is supported by local tax levies that amount to $11 more in taxes per $100,000 of assessed valuation.

Crisfield continued to warn that, with salaries and wages accounting for 80 percent of the budget and benefit costs continuing to escalate, these costs will “crowd out” choices the district thinks about making in the future in terms of program and other expenditures. The only other ways of dealing with the benefits cost increases, he said, would be to continually increases taxes, which most taxpayers already consider too high, or ask employees to pay more, which would give them less for their families.

On the controversial topic of Common Core Curriculum standards, the superintendent said the major costs of PAARC testing connected with the standards and Common Core itself would be “opportunity costs” in time lost from other educational programs in the district.

He noted that, since the district already would be spending funds to upgrade its classrooms for 21sr century technology, that Common Core would not greatly add to these costs.

Crisfield said the board’s next meeting, on May 12, would include a presentation on Common Core.

The superintendent’s prediction of no significant cost impact due to Common Core was roundly disputed by township opponents of the new standards.

Resident Marisa Christmas said the new standards were being unwillingly forced on township school officials and students and states across the United States would be spending from $3.1 billion to $12.1 billion more for the changes from the new curriculum, with California alone spending a minimum of $3.8 million.

Christmas added that those opposed to Common Core would have a presentation on the subject on Tuesday, May 13, at 7:30 pm at Bauer Community Center in Taylor Park.

Outspoken Common Core opponent Doug Cundey called “disingenoous” a letter Crisfield recently sent out to township residents discounting the effects of the new curriculum.

Cundey said the proposed testing requirements were onerous for school districts, students and teachers and the tests for the new curriculum were developed by consultants rather than by leading educators.

He criticized the district for not hosting forums on the topic, and noted that the Common Core opponent group, Preserve Our Schools, in addition to the May 13 forum, also would hold one on June 4 at 10 am in the Millburn Public Library.

On another budget-related matter, board negotiations committee chairman John Westfall-Kwong announced that the board and the Millburn Education Association on April 10 announced they had reached an impasse in their contract talks.

Westfall-Kwong noted the board and educator bargaining unit had been negotiating in good faith since October 2013 to reach agreement on their current pact, which expires on June 30 of this year. He added the parties have met more than eight times, with each session lasting more than one and a half hours.

The board negotiations chairman also said, “For purposes of these negotiations, the association represents approximately 540 teachers, secretaries, paraprofessionals, and other staff employed by the board. Association member salaries cost the board approximately $40.3 million in the 2013-2014 school year. The average teacher’s salary is $83,925. The association’s health benefits cost the board approximately $8.3 million in the 2013-2014 school year. Up to this point, the board has refrained from public comment in order to permit the negotiations process to continue unimpeded by external factors. However, due to to the time that has passed since negotiations began, the board feels compelled to provide the public with a statement.”

The declaration of impasse, he explained, means the parties are requesting the state Public Employment Relations Commission to appoint a mediator to work with the parties.

He added, “The board is working diligently to enhance the quality of education while agreeing to terms and conditions consistent with the present economic climate and in the best interests of our childrne and the taxpayers. The board is optimistic that a settlement will ultimately be reached on a successor agreement. Reaching a fair successor agreement has been and will continue to be a top priority for the board.”

On another matter, Westfall-Kwong, who also chairs the board property committee, announced that Crisfield had presented for committee review a referendum project list aimed at enhanced security, a solution to location of temporary classroom trailers at Glenwood School, solution to a self-contained special education classroom and preschool classes and 21st century learning spaces.

The property committee chair added it appears unlikely a referendum on school improvements will be held in 2014, but said discussions will continue on how to fund the above projects as well as an enhanced district-wide communication system including fire and burglar alarm upgrades and a high school auditorium renovation.

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