On Tuesday, November 7, Verona voters will choose between two candidates to fill one seat on the Verona Board of Education. Lisa Freschi is running for re-election, and she is being challenged by Connor McCann, a 2015 graduate of Verona High School. MyVeronaNJ.com asked both candidates for their views on four key issues for the future of public school education in Verona.
Question 2: Verona’s public school budget is over $30 million with limited wiggle room from year to year because of the cap. How will you determine if a budget presented to you is the best budget for Verona?
Freschi: The mantra of any school board is “Students First” and making sure the schools are well run. When determining what a responsible budget to pass is, I look at goals for the district and keep in mind our Strategic Plan. There are six core strategies to take into account: finances, expanded academic opportunities, authentic experiences, building/grounds/infrastructure, school culture, and staff development. When developing a budget, items need to fit into one or more of these categories and have a clear answer to how it will benefit students. There are also discussions on what is necessary and what is a ‘nice to have’ and we strive to strike a balance.
McCann: I would help determine if a budget is the best budget for Verona by evaluating every aspect of the budget and the big picture with regards to how taxpayer money is being used. A budget must be balanced as if a board member is running a budget within their own household. If there is only a certain amount of money that we have to use, then the budget must be juggled and well balanced in order to fall within that number. Cutting costs is an obvious goal where there is room to do so, but if it means sacrificing the level of service that is needed to be provided in order to help the students succeed, then it is not worth it.
Also, managing money is crucial when it comes to a budget. Verona received an increase in state aid for this school year in comparison to the previous year. What was that increase used for? Each and every taxpayer has the absolute right to know how their money is being spent by the Board of Education. I will strive as a board member to make the Board as transparent as possible. Additionally, when managing a budget, surpluses must be managed efficiently. This past year Verona had a large surplus in the budget, in a year where the current board claimed they lacked the funds to pay their paraprofessionals a reasonable wage and also in a year where they cut staff positions because they claimed they could not afford to keep them. When a large surplus is present, it must be used wisely. I would push for as much of the surplus as possible to be used towards projects that are needed to be done such as the heating and cooling upgrades in the schools, in order to avoid having to have that series of smaller referendums that was mentioned earlier. This would save taxpayers money decreasing referendums and would get these much needed projects completed with the leftover budget money.