Schools Chiefs Approve 2% Tax Rise
Thursday, March 31, 2011 • 12:23pm
MAPLEWOOD- Taxes will be raised by nearly 2 percent to pay for the 2011-2012 South Orange and Maplewood School District budget.
The South Orange and Maplewood Board of School Estimate voted Wednesday night to approve a $103.2 million tax levy, representing a 1.89 percent increase over last year’s tax levy.
Board of Education President Mark Gleason said that while the tax levy for 2011-2012 is higher than 2010-2011, it is still lower than the year before.
This is due to the massive hit the current budget took when a large amount of state aid was removed for the current year.
Speaking on behalf of the South Orange and Maplewood Board of Education, which approved the 2011-2012 budget on March 7, Gleason said that the chief goal of the school district is to narrow the achievement gap.
These improvements, Gleason argued, led the Board of Education to support the tax levy in order to maintain the school district’s “positive momentum.”
Board of Education Vice President Elizabeth Daugherty spoke before the board, also in support of the tax levy, saying that the school district was making gains in sustainability that was garnering the attention of other districts. “We are way ahead of the curve on other school districts,” Daugherty said.
Maplewood Mayor Vic DeLuca, who voted for the tax levy, said that the board couldn’t let property taxes prevent them from maintaining a good school system.
Citing a state and federal government unresponsive to the needs of public education and a regressive tax system, he said that they were reaching the “end of the pipeline” in terms of government funding.
However, he believed that the board was voting for the best tax levy possible under the circumstances.
DeLuca then went on to propose the abolishment of the Board of School Estimate, deeming it “not an appropriate level of government” and saying that any tax level above the 2 percent state-mandated cap should be decided directly by South Orange and Maplewood voters.
Maplewood Vice Mayor Kathy Leventhal, who also voted for the tax levy, cited the narrowing of the achievement gap as key, saying that the budget would help the school district further its goals.
Meanwhile, Deputy Mayor of Maplewood Fred Profeta was vocal in his criticism of the tax levy, asking other members of the board what they would do “now in a time of tax crisis.”
Noting that taxes are Maplewood’s number one issue, Profeta said that in light of the fiscal reality there weren’t enough resources to maintain the quality of education the district is striving for.
“We don’t have the means to sustain the kinds of budgets that keep coming out of this process,” he said.
Profeta, who was one of two who voted against the tax levy, said that while he supported the district’s goal to cut the achievement gap, it should not be the district’s number one priority. Rather, school sustainability, or looking at ways to save money, should be at the top of the list.
In addition to suggesting cuts the district can make, Profeta argued that the district should be more aggressive in securing grants.
South Orange Village Trustee Nancy Gould “reluctantly” voted for the tax levy. She believed more cuts could have been made to areas such as maintenance, but because the Board of Education can cut whatever it wants should the Board of School Estimate vote down the tax levy, she decided to vote yes to prevent possible teaching staff decreases.
Board of Education member Richard Lane had urged the Board of School Estimate to vote for the tax levy, saying that a tax levy cap below 2 percent would have impeded future growth.
Lane, who is representing the Board of Education in ongoing talks with the SOMEA teachers’ union, also said that he hoped the 2 percent increase in the tax levy would give the district “the resources to successfully conclude negotiations.”
South Orange Village President Douglas Newman, who voted for the tax levy, thanked the office of Superintendent of Schools Brian Osborne for the detailed memo sent to members of the board following requests from the March 23 meeting, citing it as an “incredible level of responsiveness.”
Two resolutions were approved at the meeting. The first resolution was a tax levy of $99,960,248 for the general fund, while the second resolution was a tax levy of $3,258,423 for debt service.
The tax levy will not be apportioned equally between the two communities.
According to Newman, Maplewood will pay $59 million, or 57.8 percent of the total, representing a 2.85 percent increase over the previous year. South Orange will pay $43 million, or 42.2 percent of the total, representing a 2.44 percent increase.
These calculations are based on the fiscal year, which is from July 1 to June 30, not the school district year.
According to Gleason, the general fund tax levy for 2011-2012 was higher than in 2010-2011, requiring the 2 percent increase. However, because the debt service was down from the previous year, the overall tax levy was allowed to go to 1.89 percent.
The Board of School Estimate consists of three members of the Village Trustees of South Orange, three members of the Township Committee of Maplewood, and two members of the Board of Education. Five votes were needed to pass the tax levy, with four coming from township or village officials.