At last night’s Board of Education meeting, Superintendent Charles Sampson announced further cuts to the 2010-2011 budget, necessitated by last week’s announcement that Governor Chris Christie is reducing state aid to the Verona district by $1.4 million, or 5% of the budget. In addition to the $800,000 in cuts listed last week, the new items on the chopping block are 5.6 staff positions (3.6 are existing staff who will be let go; 2 are retiring teachers who will not be replaced) and the elimination of three freshman sports programs, in girls and boys basketball and baseball.
Sampson was quick to point out that Verona is not as hard-hit as other districts, some of which are laying off dozens of teachers and devastating their athletic programs. “I’m proud to say that we will not see a break in the services we provide our students,” he says. “Every single new textbook order will be filled, all academic programs will be maintained … and we will fully fund our new writer’s workshop program for K-4.” He attributes the Verona district’s resilience to the fact that Verona is “very thinly run; we are spending at adequacy,” he says. “Others spend millions more per year than we spend.” He also cited the careful work of his “excellent board and business administrator (Cheryl Nardino).”
Two residents spoke during the public portion of the meeting, which was attended by about 25 people. Both were parents concerned about personnel cuts, which they feel fall disproportionately on special education (All but one of the reduced teaching positions come from special education; the other is a retiring high school science teacher whose work will be “re- allocated” among the other science instructors.) Laning Avenue school parent Suzanne Welch objected to the removal of the reading specialist, saying: “I’m a firm believer in front-loading education.” Linda Tsang of 45 Fells Road said, “I would rather you take away all the sports rather than take away from the kids who need it the most.”
The majority of board members also indicated that they would not seek a waiver which would allow the board to increase taxes over the 4% that the state allows. Board member John Bellino pointed out that there are already too many variables for tax payers, including what the new revaluation will mean to homeowners. “We are at $100 a household, which is already a tough number for voters,” he said. Added board member John Quattrocchi, “My sense is that we are not going there.”
The tentative budget will be discussed again at the March 30 Board of Education meeting at VHS; it will then go to the state for review before being finalized and added to the ballot for public voting in the April 20th election. In the upcoming weeks, Sampson will present the final budget at SCA meetings at all six of the district’s schools. A line-by-line listing of the proposed budget cuts should be on the Verona schools’ Web page by the end of the day today.
School budget cuts have been deep in the towns bordering Verona. At a packed meeting Monday night, Montclair announced it will cut 82 positions despite a pledge from its teachers union to accept a pay freeze. Caldwell, which is facing a $2 million gap, is cutting 49 positions, including 25 special aides and six high school coaching jobs. Glen Ridge’s board said it also is seeking a teacher pay freeze for the 2010-2011 school year while cutting teaching and administrative positions. West Essex’s board has approved a pay freeze, and is also seeking three cap waivers. But the district’s superintendent says he already knows it will not get part of one of the three. Baristanet is reporting that Bloomfield, which is facing the loss of 25 teaching positions, rejected a salary freeze.