Hundreds of residents and school district employees filled the council chamber Wednesday night to protest $1.7 million in cuts to the district’s tax levy for the 2010-2011 school year, claiming the budget reduction will hurt education in Wayne. The amount is less than 1.4 percent of the district’s $126.6 million tax levy.
Voters rejected the original tax levy by approximately 100 votes in late April. According to state law, municipal governing bodies must review defeated tax levies and vote on how much should be cut.
It was standing room only in the chamber as the council voted 5-1 in favor of the cut, with Joseph Scuralli casting the lone dissenting vote. Lonni Miller Ryan abstained from voting, and Councilmen Al Sadowski and Lawrence Maron did not attend the meeting.
Ryan said she abstained because, “I didn’t feel as though I had enough information and it is too important of a decision to make without enough information.”
Several residents addressed the council and pleaded with them to vote against the cut.
“I feel like these cuts are very drastic and extreme,” Joyce Duncan said, noting that the cuts only make it more difficult for children. “We want our kids to have an education so they will be able to compete out there.”
Other residents said that the cuts will only make a negligible difference—approximately $40—in their tax bills. Several said they are willing to pay the extra money if it means their children will receive a better education. Some were afraid that more cuts would mean a reduction in paraprofessional staff members or teachers, particularly special education teachers.
“The teachers make the difference,” said Rex Miatke. “We’ve got a district we can’t lose.”
The rejected tax levy was $400,000 under a 2 percent mandated cut from last year’s levy. District officials had a somewhat tumultuous time creating a budget this year due to the 2% cap on property tax increases imposed by Governor Chris Christie and state lawmakers.
Diane Marturano, an advanced placement chemistry teacher at Wayne Valley High School, said she has already had to make changes in her program to save on “every supply imaginable.” She said advanced placement classes reduce students’ college tuition bills by allowing them to earn college credits with high test scores on AP exams. More cuts will not only hurt her class now, but they will hinder students’ ability to save money in the future, she said.
Recent budget cutbacks have already led to the elimination of several programs, including the Spanish language curriculum in the elementary schools.
“Our district is known for its excellence,” Kathleen Gibbons said. “Don’t remove that.”
“As you cut things out of your budget, they never come back,” said Interim Superintendent Michael Roth.
Roth declined further comment.
Sean Spiller, president of the Wayne Education Association, asked the council to “do something that is less impactful” for the district.
“At some point you start to see cracks in the armor and see it break down,” Spiller said.
Wayne Valley Principal Robert Reis said he was “shaking” for the first time in 40 years working in education because of what school districts have had to endure financially in recent years.
“These cuts are too deep,” Reis said.
School district and municipal representatives attempted to negotiate an amount to cut, but were unable to reach an agreement.
The Wayne Board of Education does not have to adhere to the specific line item cuts, but must adhere to the overall approved amount. The board can appeal the cuts to the state board of education.