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The 2012-2013 School Budget, And You


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This Tuesday night, February 28, is your opportunity to learn about the budget that will govern Verona’s public schools for the 2012-2013 school year. It is also pretty much your only opportunity to have any impact on it. For unlike every other year that you have been a taxpayer in Verona, there will be no public vote on the school budget this year. In January, Governor Chris Christie signed a measure that made it possible for New Jersey school districts to move school board elections to November from April and eliminate a public vote on the school budget as long as it stayed within the state-mandated 2% cap.

In theory, the lack of a direct citizen vote on the budget should not be a problem. Congress approves billions of dollars of spending on our behalf every year and doesn’t ask us to ratify its individual decisions. But no single decision taken by Congress takes 55% of our tax dollars, which is what the Verona public school budget does. And even to spend just a little bit more, Verona will need to make cuts to stay within Trenton’s limits. How much and to what areas of operations we won’t know until Tuesday night, but some of the cuts will likely be in the classroom. Two weeks ago, the Board of Education bandied about changes to the Gifted & Talented program, elementary school music and foreign language instruction in first and second grade. (How the latter is going to square with state law is not clear: Since 1996, New Jersey has mandated world language instruction in all elementary and secondary schools.)

High School Proficiency Assessment scores have had an up-and-down pattern...

The pressure to cut may have eased somewhat since the last meeting. Trenton announced last Thursday that it is coughing up $220,000 more in school aid for Verona. The state has also granted Verona the option of increasing its budget by 3% not 2%, and Verona need not spend all the funds covered by the so-called automatic waiver in one year—or pass the cost along in taxes to us in one shot.

Tuesday night’s meeting should also be an opportunity to hear more from new Superintendent Steven A. Forte about the instructional and budgetary opportunities he outlined in his introduction to the school community last October. Forte, a proponent of using technology like iPads in the schools, talked about bringing college-level classes into Verona High School and finding ways to increase revenue brought in to the schools. (The videos with Forte’s remarks are here.)

In comments to the previous MyVeronaNJ.com story on the budget, BOE President John Quattrocchi made it clear that he did not intend, as part of the 2012-2013 budget, to eliminate the three curriculum supervisors, a move that would save about $500,000. Other towns, such as Millburn, have eliminated curriculum supervisors in recent  years. “Our curriculum focus is just beginning to show benefit,” said by e-mail on Monday morning, pointing to accomplishments in the elementary school reading program, changes to the math curriculum series, and the three-year plan to restructure the curriculum at VHS that is now in its first year. “It is not reasonable to undo decades of what went on in Verona in under 6 months,” Quattrocchi wrote.

The impact of the curriculum supervisors on academic performance here is far from clear yet. The district testing report presented last November reflects NJ-ASK and High School Proficiency Assessment (HSPA) testing done after just one year of the supervisor team.  SAT scores at Verona High School are virtually unchanged since 1996. (See the final page of the testing report.)

...as have NJ-ASK scores

Which leads to another key point: Verona is a high-performing district academically, and has been for decades. But it also is a far smaller district than it once was. In 1976, Verona High School graduated its largest class ever–256 students. That’s more than 100 kids more than the Class of 2011. Virtually every class in every school in the 1960s and 1970s was close to that large in size. Now they are not. Our elementary schools ran K-6 until 1968, putting far more students and curriculum supervision under the individual elementary principals than today. The BOE’s budget operations guide from last year shows how school spending exploded during the Baby Boom and rose in relation to inflation in subsequent years. The charts on pages 14-16 of the guide show that BOE slashed the rate of increase in special education spending and slowed the increase in benefits costs. Overall spending in Verona is below the comparable schools in its group but Verona ranks second highest in per pupil spending on administrative salaries and benefits. The BOE has attributed this result to the fact that Verona operates six school buildings, while the other school districts run three or four.

The Board of Education meeting on the budget will be held in the VHS library media center beginning at 8 p.m. As you frame your own questions for Tuesday’s meeting, you may want to consult these resources:

Verona’s 2011-2012 Budget Presentation
State Taxpayer Guide To Education Spending
State-compiled “Report Cards” on our schools:
Brookdale Avenue School
F.N. Brown School
Forest Avenue School
Laning Avenue School
H.B. Whitehorne Middle School
Verona High School

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Virginia Citrano
Virginia Citranohttps://myveronanj.com
Virginia Citrano grew up in Verona. She moved away to write and edit for The Wall Street Journal’s European edition, Institutional Investor, Crain’s New York Business and Forbes.com. Since returning to Verona, she has volunteered for school, civic and religious groups, served nine years on the Verona Environmental Commission and is now part of Sustainable Verona. She co-founded MyVeronaNJ in 2009. You can reach Virginia at [email protected]


  1. Great Article Virginia! Obviously, cuts have to be made somewhere and hopefully, they will make the cuts across the board and not just in the classroom. I would like to say a positive word about the new writing curriculum. Last year I saw my 2nd graders writing on a higher level then my 4th grader and it’s because of the changes that were implemented in their grade. Luckily, the program was extended into the middle school this year and my now, 5th grader writes on, if not above, level. Maybe it’s not the new additions to the school district that need to be looked at, but the status quo.


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