The Wayne Board of Education approved a $126.6 million tax levy Thursday night.
Residents of a home valued at $230,000, the township average, will see their tax bill increase $254. The tax levy for the 2010-2011 academic year was $123 million.
District officials had a somewhat tumultuous time creating a budget this year due to a 2 percent cap on property tax increases imposed by Governor Chris Christie and state lawmakers. The total anticipated budget for the 2011-2012 academic year is nearly $140.9 million.
Despite the fiscal constraints, district officials said that the budget is $400,000 less than the 2 percent cap limit. There will be no reduction in the number of current programs or services offered to students. Officials did mention that there are capital improvement projects slated for the upcoming school year, including a new telephone and public address system for A.P. Terhune and John F. Kennedy Elementary Schools.
Interim Superintendent Michael Roth said that it is difficult for a family, let alone a school district, to operate on a budget where the largest source of revenue can increase by no more than 2 percent year to year.
The number of special education students is expected to increase from 971 to 1,007. However, the district’s total number of enrolled students is expected to decrease slightly from 8,676 to 8,651.
The district’s total operating budget is expected to increase nearly $4 million from $130 to $134 million.
There was a bit of infighting that occurred between board president Robert Ceberio and board members Darren Del Sardo and Joanie Walsh. Del Sardo and Walsh mentioned possibly moving $400,000 back into the school budget. Ceberio said that they were making moving money “a campaign issue.”
“We’re not campaigning, we’re discussing,” Walsh said.
The discussion continued for a few minutes before Walsh, Del Sardo, and Ceberio apologized to each other. Walsh and Del Sardo, along with Don Pavlak Jr., are running for re-election to the board this year.
“I’m going to support the budget the way it is,” said Pavlak, who noted that the district made cuts to certain line items, such as postage, in this year’s budget to cope with the 2 percent cap and slumping economy. “Money needs to go to the teachers and into the classrooms. That’s what makes our schools viable.”
There will be a greater effort to make more documents, such as progress reports and report cards, available online in the upcoming academic year.
Members of the public stressed to district officials the need for residents to approve the tax levy in April.
“We need to get out there and make sure [it] passes, it’s critical,” said Bethania Marmolejos, president of the Special Parents Association of the Wayne Council of PTOs. “The different between a Third-World country and America is our education.”
Other residents said that the district must hire a permanent superintendent as soon as possible.
“You [the board] keep asking for more, I want a superintendent,” said T.J. D’Apoltio. “That’s the stepping stone, that’s what we need to get into place.”
Board members said that a contract was in place between a candidate and the board, but the state rejected it. Gov. Christie also implemented a pay cap on superintendent salaries. Wayne’s superintendent salary will be $175,000, now the maximum allowed.
Board member Jane Hutchison said that the board accomplished what it said it would when the budgetary process began.
“We have maintained our instructional programs,” Hutchison said. “We had to be mindful of our fiscal responsibility to taxpayers and also be mindful that we have a responsibility to the students of this district.”