Next Tuesday, June 3, is the annual Board of Education Budget Vote and School Board Election. (Due to a statewide mandate, and in an unprecedented action, the date was recently changed from May 20 to June 3.) As usual, the vote will be held from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. in the Flower Hill/Weber Middle School, All-Purpose Room, on Campus Drive.
This year, three trustee seats are up. The three incumbents, Julie Meyer, Bob Ferro and Peter Wezenaar are seeking second terms, after completing their first three-year term. Former board members Dr. Roy Nelson and Dean Nardone are also vying for trustee positions, along with newcomer David Strom.
The budget this year is up $6,549,465, a 7.67 percent increase in operating expenses, now totaling $91,967,975. Last year's budget was $85,418,510 and the preceding year (2001-2002) was $80,701,714.
However, due to a reduction in the revenue side of the budget primarily because of a substantial reduction in state aid this year, the tax levy will be 8.3 percent.
Assistant Superintendent for Business Mary Callahan noted that some state aid may be restored, and in fact, the legislature made good on a promise to override Governor Pataki's veto and enact the 2003-2004 state budget which eliminates most of the education cuts proposed by the governor initially.
Ms. Callahan believes that the budget is a conservative one, in light of the fact that most school districts are struggling with health benefit cost increases, in addition to the increased cost of covering pensions, mandates and staff. She pointed out that the district's budget increase this year is among the lowest in the county.
Superintendent of Schools Dr. Geoff Gordon has also pointed out that in spite of the fact that the district is still facing increases in student enrollment and major construction projects, which started the budget process this year with a 15 percent increase, his staff and the board managed to keep the increase at only 7.67 percent.
At the final budget hearing (which was poorly attended), Ms. Callahan noted that the budget contains no additional staffing for the increased enrollment, despite requests from various school administrators. In addition, the Frost Valley Trip was eliminated, and all principals have been asked to stop purchasing orders for technology equipment.
Superintendent of Schools Dr. Geoff Gordon also hopes to implement foreign language in the elementary schools, enrich the PEP program to be more inclusive and enhance the math resources for the district. These will only be accomplished if there are sufficient retirements in the district to cover any necessary additional hiring for these programs.
In other news, board member Julie Meyer, as chairperson of the board's subcommittee on construction, reported that the bids for the Salem School have been received. The committee will also be looking at new furniture for Weber and the high school, she noted.
Under discussion too is the bus turn in the parking lot of the Manorhaven School.
Ms. Meyer reported that as of now, the bond is $3,000,000 under budget.