Madison School Board Approves Budget with 2 Percent Tax Increase; Custodians Say They're Fighting for Their Jobs

The Madison Robotics Team demonstrates its state championship robot at the Board of Education March 27 meeting. Credits: Liz Keill
MADISON, NJ – The district’s operating budget came in at $36,229,252 for the coming year. The tax increase is two percent, which translates to $130.58 for a home assessed at $409,400.
Business Administrator Gary S. Lane said the budget was brought in at the state cap, with no additional funds or waivers. All current positions are maintained; there are no cuts in budget manager accounts and all extra-curricular activities are fully funded. The budget can be seen on the district’s website.
He observed that last year the district was $900,000 out of balance, mostly because of a sharp decrease in state aid. As positive as this budget is, however, he added, “I have great trepidation going forward.” He said revenues are constantly shifting and that the funding formula can be changed by the state.
One area that generated discussion, however, was the possible outsourcing of some custodial duties. Superintendent of Schools Michael Rossi said that an electrician and plumber are needed. If outsourcing is decided on, the district would initiate a strong vetting process, including a second background check. He pointed out that the cafeteria services are outsourced. “It’s not an easy decision,” he said, but noted that last year 11 faculty positions were cut.

The head custodian said that the current workers had been willing to compromise, offering a wage freeze, giving up clothing and shoe allowances and continuing to do more for less. “It’s fallen on deaf ears,” he said. “We are now fighting for our jobs.” 
Rossi said the janitorial staff would each receive a letter next week reflecting the bids. Board President Lisa Ellis said, “This is not a done deal. We have a problem and we have to find a way to solve it.” She said the board is doing due diligence, but must also be concerned with the maintenance of the district’s buildings and grounds.
Several members of the audience spoke of the personal rapport they have had with the schools’ custodians over the years and emphasized the importance of safety. “These guys are like family,” one person said. Another commented, “Our staff is looking out for our kids.”
The board approved a refunding bond ordinance, which would mean significant savings to the district, according to the bond counselor. 
A highlight of the meeting was a demonstration by the Robotics Team, which won a state championship. The team started just last year and has grown from seven members to 20. Physics teacher Matthew Blackman, who advises the group, said the goal was to show that “science and math can be fun.”
The team goes out to the elementary schools and encourages youngsters to become engineers. “Robotics is fun, useful and cool,” one student said. The students emphasized the teamwork involved and how frustration becomes motivation. One student has received a robotics scholarship to Fairleigh Dickinson University for $24,000 and another student received a scholarship to Stevens Institute. The students demonstrated the winning robot with multiple moving parts, including eight feet of bicycle chain.

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