School Board Lowers Tax Levy to 2.16 Percent
Residents at public hearing wonder if cuts have gone too far.
Assistant Superintendent Michael LaSusa discussed the details of an amended budget for the 2012-13 school year Monday during the Board of Education's open hearing.
LaSusa said the budget has been amended to a lower tax levy increase, from 2.25 percent at the Feb. 27 meeting to 2.16 percent as of March 12, in part because of one less staffing request at Lafayette Avenue School.
At this incease, the annual Chatham Borough household will see a monthy tax increase of $24.17 and an annual increase of $290.08. The average Chatham Township household will see taxes increase $9.45 each month and $113.43 over the year.
With a budget so far below the maximum allowable tax levy, two residents, including former Board of Education member Alan Routh, asked the board of the budget was, perhaps, too bare.
"This is a modest, reasonable, robust budget," Routh said. "If anything, I'm worried it's too far on the lean side."
Cathy Farnan, another parent, said the world languages program at the kindergarten through third-grade level was a worthy program for the district to fund and asked if a higher tax levy could fund the program.
"I think we're doing our kids a disservice by not provinding world languages at the elementary level," Farnan said.
Board members Kim Cronin, Richard Connors and Matthew Gilfillan said they felt the budget should remain as low as possible in deference to Chatham residents still struggling in a difficult economy, particularly with an overall tax levy increase of 7 percent expected for borough residents.
"I don't feel the economy has turned dramatically," Gilfillan said. "The right thing for taxpayers in both towns is to keep taxes as low as possible in these economic times."
The budget, with a tax levy increase of 2.16 percent, was unanimously approved at first introduction.
Connors asked LaSusa to at least put numbers together for what it would take to reinstate the world languages program in the elementary schools.
What's in the Budget?
LaSusa said one full-time staffing request at LAS, a health and physical education teacher. Instead, he said, existing staff from district elementary schools can be used to fill the positions.
The budget also includes $914,907 in capital outlay, including $405,442 for additional equipment, $242,459 for construction and $267,006 for the capital reserve.
Equipment includes a carpet extractor for asbestos abatement, carpet removal and tile replacement for several classrooms at Southern Boulevard School and Washington Avenue School, where the carpets "have definitely seen better days," LaSusa said.
LaSusa also requested a new college and career specialist position for Chatham High School, where increasing enrollment and a highly competitive college admissions process mean more students are applying to more colleges than ever before.
"I've heard of one student applying to 20 colleges," LaSusa said, as an example of the number of colleges students typically apply to. Not long ago, he said, most students applied to only five colleges.
A college specialist, as opposed to a full school counselor, could help take some of the pressure off of the school's existing guidance staff.
Other equipment expenses include $270,000 for additional security cameras throughout the district, particularly in several outdoor positions at the schools. Another $100,000 will go toward providing magnetic identification card access at all schools.
The maximum allowable lax levy increase is 3.28 percent, or $1,731,213 over the 2011-12 tax levy of $52,791,296. The additional funds over the state-mandated two percent increase are funded by the banked cap from last year, which the district can opt to use without requiring a second question.
At a 2.16 percent tax levy increase, the new tax levy amount is $53,929,100.