WEST ORANGE, NJ — Members of the West Orange Board of Education (WOBOE) approved with a majority vote of 4-1 a final budget of $165,576,586 for the 2019-2020 school year—representing an annual tax rate increase of $138.28 to the average homeowner.

According to a budget presentation from Acting Superintendent Eveny de Mendez and Business Administrator John Calavano, the tax increase resulting from the final budget represents a $13.54 decrease from the number initially proposed in the preliminary budget.

Included in the budget are additional programs that focus on meeting the mandates as required by the State of New Jersey.

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According to the presentation, this includes hiring two new health teachers for grades K-5 so that elementary school students will now have health education as part of their Physical Education (P.E.)/Health curriculum. Two new English as a Second Language (ESL) teachers will also be hired for the elementary schools to meet state compliance and personal finance will also be introduced to grades 6-8 as part of a new state mandate, de Mendez said.

Other staff members who will be added as a result of the budget include one special education teacher for kindergarten, one academic support teacher for grade 6, one district-wide occupational speech therapist and one part-time technology technician for the district.

De Mendez also said that there will be several new professional learning and development opportunities including content area professional development for K-12, academic intervention for grade 6, diversity/cultural proficiency for K-12 and social-emotional learning and restorative justice for K-8.

She also mentioned that six staff members will be a part of the West Orange High School’s (WOHS) new traffic pattern initiative, which was proposed by Principal Hayden Moore and officially began in April 2019.

Parking lot security will also be implemented before and after school at Hazel Elementary School and after school at Washington Elementary School. According to de Mendez, this is to ensure pedestrian safety when students are being dropped off and picked up from school.

In terms of technological improvements, West Orange teachers will receive 375 new laptops; students will receive 2,100 Chromebooks to replace the ones that are damaged or have reached the end of their life; and WOHS will be receiving refurbished computer in the three business education labs as well as in the computer graphics lab as part of this year’s budget.

De Mendez also said that the budget adds geomapping/geofencing capabilities to all school buses; new student IDs or Zpasses for identification on the buses; and the SmartApp for instant alerts and communications about bus status between the district and parents.

In addition to reducing the frequency that staff members partake in out-of-district professional development, other reductions to the budget were mainly focused on making transportation more efficient. As discussed during the preliminary budget presentation, de Mendez said that the final budget focuses on reducing single bus run in favor of double and triple runs, or bus routes that involve the same bus going to two-or-more different schools.

De Mendez also mentioned that the late bus runs will be consolidated from four runs into three. This will eliminate the 7 p.m. bus and push the other bus times to 3:45 p.m., 5:30 p.m. and 6:45 p.m., she said.

The superintendent assured the public that the number of buses will remain the same and that students who stay after school for sports will not be negatively impacted by the change.

Among items not reflected in the 2019-2020 budget are the replacement of Univent/HVAC units, the Washington Elementary retaining wall, and Quality Water recommendations. According to de Mendez, these items exceed the scope of the budget by upward of $12.5 million.

She also announced that the district is applying for the School Violence and Prevention Grant in collaboration with the West Orange Police Department (WOPD). The grant, which is due at the end of this month, will provide between $225,000 and $300,000 based on how much money is needed to adopt the recommendations proposed by the safety and security audit conducted by Stonegate Consulting Group, de Mendez said.

Included in the budget is $150,000 to be allocated to Safety and Security recommendations as made by Stonegate, which de Mendez said will be presenting its recommendations to the board at the next board meeting to be held at WOHS on May 20.

Although content with the final budget, WOBOE member Mark Robertson said that the district could do more to offset the financial burden that the budget poses not only to the district, but to taxpayers.

To read more about how the board members and community responded to the budget presentation, click HERE.