Staffing, Security Top Priorities for Next Year's Budget

Growing enrollment requires a growth in facilities and staff, and a commensurate investment in extracurricular activities.

Dr. Michael LaSusa, superintendent of the School District of the Chathams, proposed three different potential paths for the Board of Education to take in planning the 2013-14 school budget at his presentation Monday.

LaSusa proposed several scenarios with tax levy increases from 2.14 to 3.41 percent, plus one option with a second question for increasing school security.

Priorities: Staffing, Activities ...

Priorities for the next school year include additional staff at the high school to teach math, science, social studies, English, Chinese and art for a total investment of $535,000. "Those last two don't have to be full time staff," LaSusa said.

LaSusa also proposed additional extracurricular activities at both Chatham High School and Chatham Middle School, and increase intramural sports and improve varsity sports at the high school.

He also made the construction of an additional four classrooms at Chatham High a priority. Four classrooms were added in the 2011-12 school year during what LaSusa called "Phase I" of an expansion plan to accommodate enrollment growth.

"Phase II," which LaSusa wants to enact in the 2013-14 school budget, will add another four classrooms for $2,700,000, drawing mostly on the capital reserve for those funds.

Special Education is another priority in the budget. Almost all of the state aid received by the district in past years goes toward special education programs, and the district has more special education students remaining in the district than in past years. He proposed adding staff at Lafayette Avenue School and at the middle school, and putting in an additional paraprofessional at Milton Avenue School. This investment would be about $228,000, he said.

... And Security

The last major priority is in student wellness and security, which LaSusa said had become a priority since the.

LaSusa recommended "a three-pronged approach" to increasing student security and well-being. The first step is to increase counseling staff by two staff members, which would allow for one full time counselor in each school and another counselor at the high school. Right now Washington Avenue School and Milton Avenue School share one counselor between them.

Best practices also recommend one Student Assistant Counselor per 1,000 students, and LaSusa recommended adding one at the middle school.

The second step, he said, is to add extracurricular activities to the high school and middle school. "As enrollment grows, we haven't made a commensurate investment" in those areas, LaSusa said. Adding more extracurricular activities gives more opportunity to students to get involved in the school. "We want kids to feel connected," LaSusa said, which can help prevent tragedies like the Newtown shooting.

The third step is to increase security personnel. LaSusa also proposed adding a Director of Safety and Security and putting in building monitors, possibly retired law enforcement personnel, in both the mornings and afternoons in each building, "basically to be another set of eyes and ears." The total investment of these security personnel and counselors would be $439,200.

What's Missing?

None of the plans he proposed included reintroducing world languages at the K-3 schools, which LaSusa said was mostly due to a lack of available space at some schools and lack of additional instruction time in all of them. "We'd have to take something out in order to put something in," he said.

There is also no current plan to add another athletic trainer to the staff at Chatham High, or to outfit the schools with generators.

LaSusa said after Hurricane Sandy wiped out the power in both Chatham Borough and Chatham Township and canceled school for a week or more, he had expected generators to be a major priority in the upcoming budget. But after Newtown, that changed, he said.

Board President Thomas K. Belding also said "there are some issues which haven't been worked out yet" for installing generators in schools, and that these issues may not be fully worked out until next year.

L22 February 27, 2013 at 02:01 AM
Agreed. There is never a focus on holding the line. Why is there not an option to provide additional security but NOT the extracurriculars? Of course no one wants to to vote against additional security. Is there really a lack of extracurricular activities? Once again, disappointing. The Boards thinks residents can just absorb these increases every year, year after year. It's time that residents realize a NO vote on the budget- when it is finalized- does not translate into a lack of support for the schools, but rather a message to the Board to do better with our money.
Ron Swanson February 27, 2013 at 02:56 AM
I love the way the Superintendent began his budget discussion by assuming the full 2% cap as a given tax levy increase. This is exactly why voters should never give up the right to approve school budgets - if we do, taxes will always rise by no less than 2% regardless of whether such an increase is justified. Voting on the budget regardless of whether its within the cap or not forces the Board to explain the need for the increase. Any second question should be rejected outright. Would be nice to see the District live within its means for once and give the taxpayers a break, for even one year.
Biff February 27, 2013 at 03:25 PM
If living in a vacuum with blinders and not comparing Chatham’s school budget to other school district, and if not taking the amazing success and positive notoriety we have achieved into consideration, then perhaps one can question the budget, next year’s projected increases, and the job Dr. LaSuza and our Board of Education does. However, once all the facts are known and the comparisons made, it becomes abundantly clear that we are extremely fortunate to live in a town with such wonderful, hard working and caring individuals who collectively achieve platinum results with a comparatively low school budget. One of the biggest reasons why people move to, and stay in Chatham, is our schools. This shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone, and it’s the reason why knowledgeable citizens overwhelmingly approve the budget and the outstanding job the Supervisor and the unpaid members of the Board of Ed do. The knock-on benefits of this success benefit everyone in the Chathams, and not just by fueling high real estate values and liquidity.
chatham98 February 27, 2013 at 05:33 PM
I am in 100% agreement that one of Chatham's primary assets is the school system. That said, the fact that it appears that all expenses are always rising is a red flag to me. In 5 years, at 4% compounded, the budget will go up over 20% to over $80 million. I have been reviewing the proposals provided in the article and I find little help in getting into agreement with the Board. Also, I'm insulted by the tone of the words in scenario 1 (page 18). How do I know the real need here? Why should I blindly trust the Board? Have they done a professional risk assessment? I don't agree with "throwing money" at issues. The slides just do not provide sufficient information in my opinion. It does appear that the Board has done an excellent job. I just think they can do a better job of assuring us that they are still up to the task by doing a much better job of presenting a budget request.
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