CHATHAM, NJ—The Board of Education of the School District of the Chathams on Monday introduced a 2012-2013 spending plan totaling $60,819,838.
Under the proposed budget for 2012-2013, residents of Chatham Borough would pay an additional $24.17 per month or about $290 per year and Chatham Township residents would pay about $113 more annually or $9.45 per month.
According to School Business Administrator Peter Daquila, the borough levy would be greater under the proposed plan than that in the township because the borough has lost tax ratables over the last year while the township has seen an increase in tax ratables.
The plan, as currently proposed, would enable the school district to “bank” unused taxing authority of $593,409 under the state cap law. The law allows any district to bank for two future years any amounts of increase under a maximum limit of 3.28 per cent.
Monday’s action, however, may not be the final word on the budget that will be put before borough and township voters in the April 17 Board of Education election.
During a board finance committee meeting that preceded Monday’s regular school body meeting, some parents urged the board to consider making adjustments to the budget that would result in institution of a world language program in the kindergarten through third grades, increases to music programs in the schools and further improvements to the auditorium that is shared between Lafayette Avenue School and Chatham High School.
Cathy Kelstrom of Chatham Township said she was concerned that a greater amount was not being allocated for the music program, especially since residents of the district were paying to send their children to after-school musical programs outside the district.
She also said their was not enough room in the auditorium to accommodate all the parents who wanted to attend some concerts in the school.
The district has improved lighting and sound equipment in the auditorium but seating and capacity still are concerns.
Incoming Superintendent of Schools Michael LaSusa replied that the music and auditorium improvements probably could not be done this year but they would be considered in the 2013-2014 school budget.
While the district currently has a Spanish program in the fourth and fifth grades at the Lafayette School, it currently has no world language program in the kindergarten through third grades.
Cathy Farnan of Chatham Township, the incoming president of the Chatham High School Parent-Teacher Association, said it was a “proven fact” that young brains develop better if children are exposed to foreign languages at an early age.
She added it was a disservice for the district not to provide world language in early elementary school.
LaSusa, whose teaching background is in foreign language, replied that cognitive development is aided by early introduction of language instruction.
He added, however, that the district has a number of current problems dealing with its “enrollment crunch” and scheduling of additional instructional time for the existing staff would be difficult.
At the urging of board vice president, Richard Connors, he agreed to look into possible addition of the program to the current budget or to the school’s program this coming September.
Daquilla said there was possible room for additional expenditures in the proposed budget if some of the “banked” cap funds are used.
He noted the budget proposal, although already submitted to Morris County school officials for first review, can be changed up to the conclusion of the district’s March 26 public hearing on the spending plan.
In a continuing review of the budget’s specifics, LaSusa noted the majority of the proposed $405,492 capital outlay equipment expenditures would be devoted to school security—much of it at the high school.
This would include $100,000 for a card access system that would be set up so that teachers could officially enter the schools only at certain times, maintenance staff at certain times and students at other times.
Also included would be $270,000 for a district-wide camera surveillance system.
According to the business administrator, the cameras would allow school officials to have photographic evidence of where people were in the schools at certain times so, in the event of damage to the schools or other incidents those responsible could be more easily pinpointed.
Capital outlay construction costs would include $130,000 for carpet removal and tile replacement at the Southern Boulevard and Washington Avenue Schools and $112,459 in debt service interest that the school district must pay back to state school development authorities as part of the state grant process for construction projects in the local schools.
Salary costs, which are increasing 4.5 percent in the proposed budget, would hit $36,009,111, and health care costs have been pegged at $6,079,379, according to LaSusa.
Among instructional costs, the budget includes $76,000 each for two basic skills interventions staffers—one to be shared between Southern Boulevard and Washington Avenue Schools—and one for the Lafayette School—and an additional college counselor at the high school.
The incoming superintendent said the college counselor would not be a certified staff member but would be used to help students in the college selection process and to relieve teachers of much of the burden of processing the applications.
Board member Jill Weber added students often needed help with conducting searches for the right college and focusing on the best choices for them.
Overall, board budget chair, Matthew Gilfillan said, the school body “was concerned about the possible 7 percent increase in Chatham Borough. We want to do the right thing to keep taxes as low as possible in these difficult times.”
Former board member, Alan Routh of the township, said he would like to see the board, in its future budget presentations give rundowns of “audited” actual year-to-year final budget figures.
He added he was concerned the education body was not doing enough long-range planning.
Routh noted although the district’s current construction program would accommodate the current graduating class of 190 more work would be needed to deal with upcoming classes, including a current elementary school class level estimated at 360 students.
On the subject of long-range planning, Board President Tom Belding announced, under the state’s new merit planning system for school superintendents, LaSusa would be meeting with himself, Connors and William Librera, who has been mentoring LaSusa in his new role, to determine the incoming superintendent’s performance objectives and how they fit with the district’s planning objectives for the next four years.
On another matter, Interim Superintendent Dennis Fyffe won approval from the board to close schools on April 9, the day after Easter, due to the fact that the district has not used all of its snow days because of this year’s unusually warm weather.
Fyffe added it is possible the district will close additionally the day after Memorial Day if no further emergency closings are needed between now and May.
LaSusa also announced two finalists have been selected in the district’s search for a new assistant superintendent of schools to replace him and the replacement most likely would be named at the board’s April 16 session.