School Officials Submit Budget to the County; Host Budget Workshop
District gets letter from county, reading program discussed, capital improvements explained
A tentative budget of $129 million for the 2012-13 school year has been submitted to the county superintendent for review, school officials said.
Though this year's initial budget presents one of the lowest tax rate increases in history — $92 per average home — West Orange Superintendent Dr. Anthony Cavanna said the district exceeded some cost ratios recommended by the state.
During a Monday night budget workshop, Cavanna said he had received a letter from Kathleen Serafino, the executive superintendent for Morris and Sommerset counties, highlighting the district's overages in some areas.
Cavanna, however, said the letter was just a recommendation and would not affect the budget. "The message I got from the board is that they are satisfied with the budget as it is," he told Patch.
Paul Petigrow, vice president of the board of education, said much of data in the letter was incorrect as the 6,800-student West Orange district was being compared to a district with 1,500 - 3,500 students.
"We're under the cap, we've met certain requirements … we don't anticipate a problem," he said.
Petigrow added that this year the district was working with a new superintendent that may not be as familiar with the township.
Essex County Superintendent Larry Feinsod was forced to recuse himself from presiding over West Orange following a state mandate regarding conflict of interest issues. The mandate bars Feinsod, who resides in West Orange, from working with his hometown municipality. The district was reassigned to Serafino, superintendent for Morris and Sommerset counties.
Among other issues discussed Monday was whether to fund a $140,000 literacy program.
Read 180, part of the district's balanced literacy approach, helps at-risk students who are not reading at adequate levels.
The program was implemented last year at both Hazel Elementary and Washington Elementary School, Cavanna said. The $140,000 would fund three additional classrooms at the middle school levels, he said.
The board was torn on the issue and did not fully support the expenditure, citing lack of data and no concrete plan.
"It's a little premature at this point. Let's get a (language arts) supervisor and let them do the analysis … We have no data and this is a very expensive product," said Laura Lab, board of education president.
Board member Petigrow agreed, "I'm not inclined to support this unless I understand how it's going to work. If I have a plan, I will feel more comfortable."
Cavanna said he would work with the principals to come up with a plan to present to the board and reiterated the need for the program.
"Teachers don't have a program for the 15 percent of students that need that extra help, we don't have anything but tutoring," he said. "The board made a commitment to a balanced literacy approach. We don't need a supervisor to come in here and do whatever she wants. We don't need to wait for a language arts supervisor."
He said the administration was working to gather data on the Read 180 program that would be available at the end of the year.
Board member Michelle Casalino said regardless of whether Read 180 was approved for the middle schools, she'd like to see some type of program in place come September to help at-risk kids.
Bob Csigi, director of buildings and grounds, was also present to explain how the budget's $2.5 million in capital improvements would be used.
He said the money would be used to meet "critical needs" in the district including concrete asphalt repairs, boiler replacements, asbestos removal, floor replacements and a flood gate at Pleasantdale Elementary School.
Csigi said the department was prioritizing projects based on the buildings' age and need.
The board will hold its next regular meeting March 12 at 8 p.m. and will have a public presentation on the budget March 28 at 8 p.m. at the high school.