At last night’s Board of Education meeting, Superintendent Charles Sampson outlined how $1.4 million will be cut from Verona’s 2010-2011 budget in the wake of severe state cutbacks.
The presentation, which is on the Verona schools’ Web site, demonstrates how the money will be saved, without significant changes to student programs. Most of the savings come from “breakage”–the difference between the salaries of the 6 to 7 teachers who are retiring and their replacements; the administrative restructuring of the area coordinators at the H.B. Whitehorne Middle School and the district’s Gifted and Talented Program, and a cutback of aides in the Special Services department. One teaching position will be eliminated from HBW, although what position that is has not yet been made public.
The tax burden to the average home under this budget scenario is $290 per year, or $24 per month. Mr. Sampson pointed out that Verona has a tax rate that is “significantly lower” than that of comparable school districts such as Berkeley Heights, Glen Ridge, Cedar Grove, Caldwell and New Providence. The Verona district accomplishes this, he said, with the lowest cost-per-pupil and close to the highest classroom spending per pupil of the eight comparable districts. “It’s shocking to me how quickly other districts have jettisoned staff and programs, (in the wake of state aid cuts),” he said, adding that: “Putting a target on the back of the teachers has no place. We are dealing with the situation in a much different manner.”
Though the Verona High School Media Center was packed with about 35 residents, every one of those who spoke during the public portion of the meeting praised the school board’s efforts. “I fully support you,” said Alex Roman. “You have done the best you could do under the circumstances.” Holly Whitmore Denton asked about the impact of the elimination of a staff position through retirement in the high school’s science department, while Pat Chesney was concerned about the cutting of special education aides. Lisa Freschi expressed the hope that the Culinary Science department, which is being cut from the high school curriculum in favor of state-mandated technical and financial literacy programs, be reinstated at a future time.
Sampson will now begin making the rounds of the district school SCAs to rally support for the budget, beginning with a stop with board member Michael Unis at HBW’s library tonight at 7:30 p.m. The budget will be on the public ballot on April 20. Board President Steve Spardel mentioned that, in light of extremely low voter turnout, which hovers in the low teens, there is some talk in the state capital about removing school budgets from local ballots in the future, so long as they maintain the state mandated spending cap. “Keep your voice,” he said, “combat the erosion of local control and come out and vote.”