The South Orange – Maplewood Board of Education continued its budget discussions Monday night, hearing a presentation on Special Education budget requests and a summary of potential areas that might see increases or cuts.
Business administrator Cheryl Schneider explained that the budget development process analyzes major categories of expenditures “to determine if the resources are effectively and efficiently allocated and to identify trends in the rate of growth” with the goal of identifying potential areas for redirecting resources or making cuts.
See Schneider’s full presentation attached as a PDF.
Schneider reviewed six main budget areas:
Technology: there has been a lot of expansion of technology and tech support in recent years, some because of the PARCC, Schneider said. The proposed increase in the 2016-2017 budget would be more than $1 million.
Enrollment: Because of “unprecedented” growth in Kindergarten enrollment, the district is continuing to discuss possibly redistricting of schools, especially of Seth Boyden.
Summer Programming: The district has been increasing its summer programming, and will continue to do so as the Access & Equity Policy is implemented.
Access & Equity Policy: The new policy is being considered throughout the budget, said Schneider, and will impact staffing considerations, academic support, guidance, and supplies.
Legal: The district has seen an increase in number of cases, “which we’re looking at,” said Schneider.
Transportation: The district is investigating the elimination of courtesy bussing, which would impact nearly 500 students but potentially save the district $200,000.
Ella Rideau, the district’s Director of Special Education, said the number of students referred for evaluation has significantly increased. She recommended the hiring of eight full-time professionals to keep special education students within the district.
See Rideau’s full presentation attached here as a Power Point.
Board member Jeff Bennett was hesitant about the potential budget increase and cautioned, “this is a big list. It might pay off, but it’s a big list.”
Elizabeth Baker explained that special education is an issue “the board needs to hear more about” and that without proper recognition, families go through years of frustration that usually end with out-of-district placements. She asked how the district can “provide supports that are not only cost-effective but high quality enough to keep families in the district and bring back families who have left?”
Board member and 2nd Vice President Johanna Wright made clear that “our costs of litigation are going up as well” and that those costs must be kept in perspective when thinking about staffing budgets. Board member Stephanie Lawson-Muhammad agreed, maintaining that “it is not luck that will reduce our litigation payouts, it is timely work.”
In a note on demographic shifts, Bennett brought up the district’s 120% kindergarten enrollment in relation to the birthrate five years ago. To offset this cost, he suggested the board support the construction of non-piloted townhouses to bring in taxpayers who for the most part do not have children.
Meanwhile, the district’s outside auditor gave a report on the district’s finances, noting that the audit “as clean an opinion as we can issue.”
“All is good,” he said.
Wright asked if the auditor would be willing to return if the board needed further explanation on anything. “Hopefully my colleagues will allow that” this time, she said.