Residents Debate Approach to School Budget
Several say they'd rather see security as part of the base budget and not as a second question at all.
The Board of Education of the School District of the Chathams got some feedback on its plan to submit two second questions to the voters in this year's school elections.
Superintendent Michael LaSusa said in his presentations to the various school PTOs, he received feedback "regarding first the proposed addition at the high school and the desire of many parents to try to be as aggressive as possible, ... and (to) perhaps expand the scope of the addition."
Chatham High finished an expansion project in 2012 which added four new classrooms, with a maximum capacity of about 100 students. These classrooms have the capacity to support a second floor with four more classrooms on top.
According to a demographer's report, enrollment at the high school is expected to rise by another 200 students in the next few years, so the budget as currently drafted includes the addition of this second floor with four classrooms as a capital project.
However, LaSusa said, parents told him they worry the demographer's report is conservative. Several proposed adding seven classrooms rather than only four. This would "also give the administration at the high school a little more flexibility," LaSusa said.
He was also encouraged to include more in the base budget, including the question of adding additional counselors.
"The third bit of feedback that we received at the K-3 buildings primarily was to reinstitute world languages at the K-3 buildings," LaSusa said. Parents told him they would like the elementary world languages program to be included as a second question, if not this year, then next year.
Several members of the public, including representatives from local PTOs and from Education Counts, spoke at the meeting about the proposed expansion of the high school and the proposed additional questions to the budget, one for more school counselors and one for increased security presence.
Nabil Mouline of Education Counts said he sent out a survey on the second questions to the Education Counts mailing list and received 144 responses in one day. The survey asked people to vote on whether they would rather see the counselors, security staff, world languages at the K-3 level, high school expansions and a school resource officer included in the base budget, proposed as a second question or not proposed at all. The results of the survey as of Monday night are included below.
|Question/Results by Percentage||Included in Base Budget||Additional Question||Not Included||Need More Information||Total Responses|
|K-3 World Languages||26%||27%||43%||4%||144|
|High School Expansion (7 classrooms instead of 4)||49%||35%||10%||6%||144|
|School Resource Officer (plainclothes, possibly armed)||22%||38%||35%||5%||144|
Pam Ritter said she was glad to see the security question separated from the base budget. She said she did not want to spend money on someone "with no real authority" to prevent someone from coming in, to force someone to leave or to detain someone. Rather, the building monitors would have to call someone, such as the police, to do these things.
"For our $225,000, we would be adding people to the payroll in a non-teaching capacity, and that disturbs me," she said. "I would like to propose that we reduce that $225,000 to $110,000 where we can pay for a professional law enforcement officer to be at the high school full time."
Kelly Loofbourrow said the monitors would have authority as employees of the district. "Having one person at each school who is a designated point person is well above what we have now, and a very important step. I think having security at each school is the next step," Loofbourrow said.
Board of Education President Tom Belding said at the schools he works at, "just the thread of calling someone makes a difference." He said his school had gang activity and serious crimes in the area, including vandalism and theft from the school. Ever since they hired someone to sit in the parking lot and monitor the area, they have had no more problems.
LaSusa said the district tried several years ago to work something out with the two police departments to provide security, but it deemed too complicated and costly to pursue.
Pam Polemeni said she would like to see the district add the two second questions to the base budget. "We've pushed off that banked cap for so many years," she said. "We're now getting to the point where we're going to lose that cap. We got it because we've had such growth and enrollment. I think we need to use it for that growth and enrollment before it ends up disappearing."
Alan Routh said the high school is already "bursting at the seams," and enrollment is set to increase as time goes on. He encouraged the board to find money for seven classrooms instead of four. "We're going to want those extra rooms," he said.
Cathy Farnan also said she wanted more classrooms rather than less, and "in the next two years we're going to have to address the cafeteria space, the gym space and the media center."
She also encouraged the board to add the counselors and security questions into the base budget, which she said would relieve PTOs of fundraising for the things that "in other states I've lived in has been provided by the district."
The Board of Education meets again at 7:30 p.m. Thursday for a public hearing on the 2013-14 budget. The meeting will take place at the Chatham Township Municipal Building.