NORTH CALDWELL, NJ — As the West Essex and Caldwell-West Caldwell school districts continue to move forward with the monumental task of providing long-distance learning to students—which they had only days to prepare for—the two districts are now also faced with decisions that may include renegotiating transportation and out-of-district special education placement contracts as well as staffing decisions for part-time workers.
In addition to making those determinations and providing an education to thousands of students, the districts also seek to support the communities they serve.
The local boards of education and their municipal governments have a long-established relationship, often sharing facilities, fields and programming for after-school recreational needs during regularly scheduled vacations. However, in this unprecedented time of mandatory school closures, the districts have been put into a position of helping their communities with desperately needed supplies.
Among the items typically funded through the district, many of which are often bought in bulk, include nursing supplies, paper goods, cleaning products and food.
To that end, the West Essex and Caldwell-West Caldwell boards of education have been sharing provisions to their communities.
“We have already been working with the OEM (Office of Emergency Management) staff about needs we might be able to fill,” said Dr. James Heinegg, Superintendent of Caldwell-West Caldwell Public Schools. “Last week, we shared some medical equipment with our local first responders, and we're continuing to communicate about supplies we may have that could be of use.
“Regarding staff, we have not had any layoffs. We are continuing to monitor the legislation under consideration in Trenton regarding school employees.”
Heinegg added that the conference meeting scheduled for April 14 will be held remotely, and the district currently anticipates needing to do the same for the regular board meeting scheduled for April 20.
“Caldwell is grateful to Dr. Heinegg and the board of education for sharing supplies with Caldwell and welcome their gesture,” said Caldwell Mayor John Kelley. “In these times, the community needs to come together. Knowing that the residents of Caldwell pay significant taxes towards both municipal and education, it is meaningful to know one entity will help the other in a crisis situation.”
West Caldwell Mayor Joseph Tempesta added that the municipality has “always had an excellent relationship with the board of education” and that he appreciates the board’s effort to help the community at this time.
“As they have been involved in our weekly OEM meetings, they have generously offered to assist the community by sharing supplies, and we of course greatly appreciate their assistance,” he said.
On behalf of the West Essex Regional school district, Superintendent of Schools Damion Macioci stated that the district has donated surgical masks, gloves and goggles to the North Caldwell Police Department, West Essex First Aid Squad and Saint Barnabas Medical Center.
He also said that no staff members have been laid off at this time, as district employees are working remotely, and after-school programming for athletics and clubs are being provided virtually as well.
Regarding transportation and its costs, Macioci reported that consideration for amending current contracts is “to be determined.”
The next West Essex Board of Education meeting will be on Zoom.
“Under the circumstances, I am pleased with how distance learning is going,” said Macioci. “I am reassured knowing our talented educators continue to approach our distance learning program with passion and creativity.”
Roseland Mayor James Spango applauded the boards of education for "taking proactive measures in ensuring [that] residents receive essential supplies."
"It is encouraging when we all bond together to help our community," he said.
The districts receive the bulk of their operating budget costs through local property taxes. The largest portion of a municipal tax bill provides funding for the school districts and they receive their monies quarterly as the municipal governments collect property tax.
Of paramount concern moving forward is the unanimous passage of New Jersey Assembly bill A-3902 on March 25 (which would be retroactive to March 9, 2020). However, in order to become law, a companion bill would need to be adopted by the New Jersey Senate, and no such bill has come before the senate at this time.
The assembly bill allows the following:
“The Director of the Division of Local Government Services shall have the power to permit municipalities to institute an extended grace period pursuant to R.S.54:4-67 not to exceed a date specified by the director and under conditions the director may specify, as well as to extend the dates for the payment of taxes by a municipality due to a county, a school district, or any other taxing district under chapter 4 of Title 54 of the Revised Statutes or any other law.”
The New Jersey School Board Association has strongly objected to the passage by the Assembly and issued the following statement in part:
“The New Jersey School Boards Association opposes A-3902, which would authorize the Department of Community Affairs to permit municipalities to delay the quarterly transmission of property tax revenues to school districts during gubernatorial-declared emergencies.
“NJSBA recognizes the impact of the current public health emergency on the state and local governments, as well as local school districts. This legislation, however, would only worsen the situation for our communities.
“New Jersey’s public schools are highly dependent on property tax revenue to support education programs. On average, local property taxes constitute 60% of public-school revenue, with the percentage even greater in a significant number of districts. A delay in payments from municipalities will result in a financial crisis for school districts, seriously disrupting the educational process—and bringing it to a halt.
“Although public school buildings are closed during the current health emergency, the education of our students is taking place through remote learning and home instruction. Continued timely transmission of school property taxes is critical for the education process to continue without interruption.”