NEWTON, NJ—The Newton Board of Education meeting turned emotional as budget cuts were announced. Board and community discussion caused the first budget vote to be defeated.  The preliminary budget meeting on March 12  was to allow the district to submit the anticipated tax levy to the executive county office.

Some board members wanted a commitment from Superintendent Dr. Kennedy Green and Business Administration Fred Savio that the anticipated bump in state aid would be used in the budget, not simply left to lower the tax levy, as was done last year.

This year the governor’s office has announced Newton would receive an additional $200,000 over 2018-2019 school year.   

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With 13 teachers from Newton High School, one Newton High School student and three Newton residents looking on the meeting began with a presentation by Greene and Fred Savio on the preliminary budget, which required $2.1 million in cuts.

The key reductions initially included:

  • Eight teacher positions: seven at the high school and Merriam Avenue. These cuts would result in student-teacher ratios to: NHS 12.0, HMS 11.7, MAS 11.5, while the state average is 12. This reduction totals $864,000.
  • Six assistant positions districtwide, two full-time assistants would move down to part-time status. All other Teacher assistants are at part-time status. This reduction totals $167,561.
  • Two and a half non-instructional positions: one central office position, one maintenance position, move custodian part-time to preschool. This reduction totals $166,036
  • Non-personnel reductions total $524,164

Jake Mull, Yvonne LaForge, Joann DaSilva, Courtney Yetter, teachers at Newton High School, along with the two current full-time assistants, Diana Eigner and Mary Licata spoke during the public portion in the beginning of the meeting.

Eigner read a prepared statement that noted some of the following: “When I began working in the Newton district over 20 years ago, I was welcomed into the Newton family. I felt like I was truly part of that family and throughout these years, I have worked at all three schools and have held many positions. I have been driving the bus for countless class trips and for the student work experience program for the Life Skills program for the past 23 years. Another full-time teaching assistant, Mary Licata, has also been driving for the work experience program and Mary and I are the only two assistants with training and a CDL license to shuttle these students.”

She went on to explain that on Friday, both she and Licata were told that they will be dropped down to part-time status and that this change would save two other assistants from losing their jobs by “demoting” them.

“We take offense to this as we do and have done so much for the district. We were told that the district will save money. The mission of the board of education is not to save money, it is to educate the whole child. What part of the mission statement on the board’s agenda addresses cutting services to special education students? I implore the board of education to take another look and reverse the decision of dropping Mary and I down to part-time teaching assistants.”

Mull also referenced the board’s mission statement. He said “It does not say anything about the taxpayers. Your duty is to the students and by cutting the teachers and giving the money to the taxpayers, you’re saying that they are more important than the students.”

After the presentation, the board continued on with the agenda, until they reached section 14, business item G- the preliminary budget. After a discussion, the item was pulled from the consent agenda for a separate vote. The budget motion was defeated 7-4.

A discussion ensued from board members Joan Faye, Tina Larsen, Grace Dickson, Jenna Genung, Ray Morris, Lisa Quarmout, and Stella Dunn, who voted no. They voted the motion down because they wanted to keep the $200,000 in state aid money that the board had planned on giving back to the town’s taxpayers in order to bring down the cuts from the Newton High School staff.

After a 15 minute break so that Greene and Savio could crunch some numbers, the board approved a preliminary budget, adding back in the $200,000 into revenue. The board all agreed that Greene would go back to the school administrators and have them decide which positions would be the most beneficial to the students to remain and which would then be cut.  

The board would then get a “new” preliminary budget at the next meeting after the school administrators weighed in. The motion was accepted unanimously. The final preliminary budget numbers are as follows:

  • 2019-20 Total Expenditures:
    • General fund: $27,854,174
    • Special Revenues: $2,219,113
    • Debt Service: $533,189
    • Total: $30,606,476
  • Less: anticipated revenues
    • General Fund: $14,963,802
    • Special Revenues: $2,219,113
    • Debt Service: $1
    • Total:$17,182,916
  • Taxes to be raised:
    • General Fund: $12,890,372
    • Special Revenue: $0
    • Debt Service: $533,188
    • Total: $13,423,560

The meeting continued and the teachers in attendance thanked the board members for their hard work and diligence. They told them they appreciated all that they were trying to do in taking another look at where they can save as many positions as possible.

Greene said cuts will still have to come at the high school and elementary school. When asked by Andover representative Daniel Cruz, if the entirety of the state aid does not come through to Newton, additional cuts then were mention will need to be considered.

The next board of education meeting is on Tuesday, March 26 and will be held at Newton High School library. There will be a tour of the school before the meeting beginning at 6 p.m. and is open to the public. The regular meeting will then continue at 7 p.m. in the library.