MADISON, NJ – Close to 50 parents, residents and teachers gathered at the Madison Board of Education meeting on Tuesday night to express their concerns about the 2016-17 district budget.
Questions ranged from class size, up to 30 students in some sections, to the dismissal of 10.3 staff positions to special education and state mandates. Some staff reductions were due to retirements or decisions to go elsewhere.
Following a presentation by Superintendent of Schools Michael Rossi and Business Administrator Gary Lane, the administrators and the board fielded questions from the public.
Lane said the $54 million budget would result in a 1.79 percent increase I property taxes, translating to $121.72 a month or $140.60 annually for a home assessed at $673,013. Monies from the sale of the Green Village Road property have been allocated to the capital improvement fund for such projects as a media center renovation at the Junior School, new roofs at the high school and junior school and other projects. The district also has high special education costs, including aides and transportation to other schools. Lane shared a pie chart showing that salaries and benefits make up a majority of the budget because education is labor intensive.
He said the system in Trenton is broken, with districts such as Madison sending $30 million to the state and receiving less than $1 million back.
In 2010 and 2011, Madison received zero state aid.
But one parent said, “I’ve heard the same story every year. I’m frustrated. You knew this was where we were headed. Why didn’t we do more sooner to generate revenue?”
A board decision this year is to hire a person to focus solely on revenue building, according to Finance Chairwoman Johanna Habib, which she said was identified as a need in the Strategic Plan.
Board member Leslie Lajewski said that coming from the private sector, it was a learning curve for her to realize how slowly it is to make change on the government level “with all the hurdles, regulations and rules.”
But the board agreed that more could be done to encourage parents to respond to surveys and to connect them with organizations such as the Garden State Coalition.
Board President Lisa Ellis said they would have two legislators come to speak with the school community about their concerns and what possibly could be done at the state level.
Resident Steve Wells renewed his plea to “take the argument to Trenton. Make noise. You’ve got another year before the crunch really hits. I do know apathy when I see it.” He suggested connecting with other communities that are facing similar issues regarding state mandates without the funding to carry them out. One example discussed earlier in the evening was the PARCC exams that required financial outlays by the district to meet state requirements.
“There are no simple, quick fixes,” Dr. Rossi said. “The responsibility is everyone’s. We can’t do it alone.”