CHATHAM, NJ - The Chatham Board of Education voted, 8-0, to pass its preliminary budget for the 2018/2019 school year, but signaled changes that will include mental health and safety additions - and likely two second proposals for public approval - at its regular meeting held Monday night.
Chatham Superintendent Michael LaSusa presented the preliminary budget in place of finance chairman Matt Gilfillan, who was absent, in the open budget meeting held before the regular meeting.
The preliminary budget includes a 2.98 percent increase over this year but is expected to be adjusted to 3.2 percent before the April 16 public hearing on the budget to include the hiring of at least one mental health professional. Because of health insurance waivers, the budget could be increased by as much as 3.6 percent without voter approval.
Board president Jill Critchley Weber indicated the need for second public questions - now known as second proposals - for additions to the budget that will need voter approval.
Mental health has become a priority since a February student wellness report revealed that 152 students - grades six through 12 - had seriously considered suicide over the past year. The board also is focused on school safety after the Feb. 14 Parkland, Fla., shootings took 17 lives at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.
LaSusa noted that enrollment is flattening off at the lower levels in Chatham, but is still growing at the high school. Although employee health care costs had gone up 14.5 percent the last two years, Chatham has reduced that increase this year to 9.9 percent by switching from Aetna Insurance to the School Health Insurance Fund, a consortium of about 45 districts.
LaSusa also said that due to Gov. Phil Murphy's budget, Chatham is slated to receive about $170,000 in additional state funding over last year.
LaSusa gives an overview of the preliminary budget in the open meeting Monday
Finance committee member Sal Arnuk recaps the challenges and constraints in putting together the BOE budget
Board President Jill Critchley Weber asks about added security in the board's discussion on the budget. Sal Arnuk said that more discussion is needed on the subject.
Separate proposals to add mental health professionals and security will have to be approved by the taxpayers. The list of major expenses not included in the budget is below.