CHATHAM, NJ - The official public hearing and adoption for the 2017-2018 School District of the Chathams budget was set for Monday, May 1 at the regular Chatham Board of Education meeting.

But a more informal open public hearing on the issues regarding the school budget - including the $2.1 million of capital reserve funds that will go toward building a central office for the BOE administration - was discussed in detail by the public and board administrators last Tuesday at the Chatham High PTO meeting.

Chatham Superintendent Dr. Michael LaSusa and Jill Critchley Weber, board president, answered questions and had a back-and-forth discussion with the public in attendance. One topic that came up was the BOE's intention to spend $2.1 million in capital reserves to build a central office building behind Gym C at the high school. The BOE offices are currently housed in the Chatham Township Municipal Building at 58 Meyersville Rd., and rented from the Township at a cost of $60,000 per year.

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Chatham's student enrollment stands at 4,154, its highest ever, and represents a 90 percent increase since 1990 when there were a total of 2,169 students. Chatham spends approximately $13,500 per student. 

Also discussed, were the problems caused by Chatham being shortchanged in the current school funding formula and the recent 14.5 percent increase in health costs for district employees.

Weber, who said that all nine board of education members, supported the new central office building, also noted that Affordable Housing mandates can also affect enrollment and have not yet been resolved in Chatham Township.

Resident Stewart Carr noted that a survey was taken after the first capital improvement referendum was defeated and that those answering the survey had not been in favor of a new central office. He asked for an explanation of the process that went into the decision and got one from both LaSusa and Critchley. 

Stewart Carr asks how the decision was made even though the public did not support the expense of a new central office building.

Superintendent Dr. Michael LaSusa answers questions about the decision to build a central office for $2.1 million. In addition to the new office building, there will be room to build above the new office at the high school and add seven classrooms to accommodate growing enrollment.

Dr. LaSusa also explained in an answer to questions how the BOE uses its capital reserves and uses it for planned projects, including the new central office.

Resident Mark Visco questions the decision to spend $2.1 million on a new office building, noting that such an expenditure was rejected by the voters in the first referendum and the survey that followed

Chatham resident Tracey Tango says she has been attending BOE meetings since 1998 and applauds the current administration for looking forward to address the growing student population in Chatham

In video below resident Dan Marino says he defers to the board after seeing that Chatham spends a lot less per pupil than other comparable towns and has such a high ranking for its academic achievements. He also agreed that questions need to be asked, but wants to give the BOE the "benefit of the doubt."

BOE President Jill Critchley Weber gives the reasoning for the new central office and says that people who question the board on issues "keeps us on our toes."