West Essex Approves $35.4 Million School Budget
Budget falls within cap; teachers ask to resume contract negotiations.
The West Essex Board of Education unanimously approved a $35.3 million 2012-2013 school budget at Monday night's meeting.
The local tax levy on this budget is $33.4 million, representing a 1.73% increase, the lowest increase in a decade. Business Administrator Michael Falkowski attributed the low increase to savings realized from the refinancing of existing debt and a 27% increase in state aid from the previous year.
In presenting the budget, Falkowski said actual expenditures increased by $762,700, with the primary emphasis on academic performance.
Without the inclusion of the debt service component, the actual budget increase is 2%, a number Board Member Joyce Candido reminded the public represents the maximum allowed by a state mandate.
The budget maintains all programs and activities, including 19 AP classes at the West Essex Regional High School, world language courses offered in five languages, 28 varsity sports offered at the high school and 10 sports offered at West Essex Regional Middle School, and over 100 extra curricular programs, covering areas in community service, academic clubs and performing arts activities.
In addition to the money allocated for academic instruction, Falkowski outlined funds allocated for improvements in technology, infrastructure and building security. These upgrades include the following:
- Replacement of aging computers
- Supplying computer equipment for courses
- Replacing radio communication within the buildings and adding more security cameras
- Beginning improvements to Maintenance Building "O"
- Repairing cracks in tennis courts
- Renovate stadium press box in order to protect audio equipment, making the area waterproof
Based upon both the tax rate and the budget contribution allocated for each of the four sending districts, the average increase per home varies from over $200 for the average homeowner in Essex Fells to a decrease in Fairfield as outlined:
- Essex Fells: Average home increase of $206.60
- Fairfield: Average home decrease of $36.56
- North Caldwell: Average home increase of $23.51
- Roseland: Average home increase of $129.81
Based upon a resolution passed earlier this year by both the West Essex Board and all of the four sending districts, the public will not vote on the 2012-2013 budget since it falls within the 2% spending cap.
As outlined in Falkowski's presentation, 73.2% of the operational budget is allocated to salaries and employee benefits, with a $408,300 increase in salaries and a $189,000 increase in benefits. Falkowski noted the expenditures will meet contractual obligations.
Beth Vaknin, president of the West Essex Education Association (WEEA), the teacher's union, noted if the budget is set up to meet contractual obligations, it is time for the union and the board to resume negotiations.
"Teachers have been working for the same salary for two years. I am running out of answers to give them. It is time to get back to the table," Vaknin said.
Earlier in the meeting, Candido said mediated negotiations between the board and the union were scheduled for April 18. After Vaknin spoke, Candido, board chairman for negotiations, responded she had "no problem sitting down one more time."
However, based upon the availability of attorneys and state union representatives, the earliest time might be April 18.
Other Board News
- Superintendent Barbara Longo, WEHS Principal Gary Suda, and several board members praised students and staff for the musical production High School Musical, which was performed over the weekend.
- Praise was also given for the Technology Symposium which took place on March 17 and included three keynote speakers, as well as breakfast and lunch provided by local caterers including ShopRite, Stop & Shop and Forte.
- Middle School Principal David Montgomery congratulated 8th grade student Jason Morganti and 7th grade student Louis Galarowicz on their respective first and third place finishes in the regional history bee.
- The Board approved two students' proposed Eagle Scout projects on the West Essex campus. Gregory Contaldi's project involves grooming and updating the Memorial Garden, while Zach Bachmann plans to re-grade and landscape the grounds near the cafeteria entrance. Both projects are prerequisites needed for the students to obtain their Eagle Scout rank.
- Board approved extending the 2012 holiday on Memorial Day Weekend for two additional days as a giveback for unused snow days. Both Friday, May 25 and Tuesday, May 29 will now be additional school holidays for the 2011-12 calendar year.
- Board approved the resignations of both Derek Sica, Teaching Instructional Supervisor of World Languages and Music, and Vincenzina Shane, Supervisor of Guidance. Both resignations take affect on July 1.