Government Schools / Kids

South Orange-Maplewood District Closes $800K+ Gap at Budget Workshop

On Tuesday night, March 7, administrators of the South Orange-Maplewood School District proposed reductions that, if accepted by the Board of Education, would close a potential $800,000-plus budget gap for the 2017/18 school year.

District Administrator Paul Roth presented the preliminary budget, complete with budget shortfall scenarios, on Monday, February 27 (read about and watch that Budget Presentation here).

The new draft budget presented by Superintendent of School Dr. John Ramos on March 7 closes the gap but still necessitates that the district use all $1.4 million of its banked cap, generating a tax levy increase of 3.39% for local taxpayers.

A video of the March 7 workshop will be available within 48 hours on the district website. Live-streamed video of most of the meeting can be found on the South Orange Maplewood Cares About Schools Facebook page here.

Before painstakingly going through additions and reductions being made to the zero-based budget, Ramos reminded the Board and the audience that there were structural issues in the budget that were “not going to go away unless we figure it out” long term. Ramos spoke of how the Jeffersonian idea of education created for an agrarian society and then scaled up for an industrial age was “now obsolete.”

“Few people were deeply educated,” said Ramos, but “now technology requires that most people be deeply educated…. It’ s not about being learned, it’s about being learners.”

Ramos lamented the district’s continuing revenue woes. “Money matters. Districts that are better resourced empower better educated students.”

Ramos also warned against community infighting during the budget process, saying that “the enemy” is the lack of support on the federal and state — specifically a “poorly executed state formula.”

“Let’s not circle the wagons and shoot within,” said Ramos. “Let’s not face the brutal facts by fighting with one another. [Let’s] confront and solve our budget problems as best we can together.”

The good news of the budget is that, even with reductions, it includes many additions — which Ramos enumerated first in his presentation. They include one additional elementary teacher, 6 more middle school teachers, one additional assistant principal at the high school, an additional part-time school nurse and cultural competency training (see the full list below).

The bad news: three cuts to full-time employees in world languages, which would eliminate world languages on the elementary level and Latin at the high school; the loss of the one remaining dean at the high school; the reduction of two physical education teacher positions; and the loss of one science and one math teacher at the high school, among other reductions.

Regarding the reduction of the math teacher, Ramos pointed to the fact every core subject at the high school should have 18 teachers, but that math currently has 20-1/2 teachers. He also noted that the high school is offering more science credits than required.

Ramos discussed how the loss of PE teachers would be made up by exempting students who are participating in a sport.

The Superintendent noted that this budget is not final and spoke to the transparency of the zero-based budgeting process which does not work from the previous year’s budget but is built from the ground up based on needs and programs. Ramos urged community members who wanted to advocate against a reduction (he cited world languages in particular) to make their case before the Board in subsequent budget meetings.

Ramos also repeatedly noted that it was the district’s fiduciary duty to deliver a balanced budget to the state by March 20 but that that did not preclude the district from raising funds after that date and “backfilling” positions and programs that had been reduced.

After outlining next steps, Ramos lamented the cuts, saying, “There is just no other way. As I said earlier, money matters.”

The next budget meeting is a Community Forum at 7 p.m. at Montrose School on March 13. See the full budget meeting schedule and timeline here.

Screenshots are from video recorded courtesy of Joseph Malespina:

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