West Orange School District Trims Costs as New Year Under Way
Jobs, supplies get the axe
Slashes in this year's state aid is affecting schools throughout West Orange – forcing teachers to get creative with less supplies and parents to take on extra burdens.
"We've lost 95 full-time positions and we have reduced our programs and that's had a major impact," said Dr. Anthony Cavanna, the district's superintendent. Class sizes have increased and programs such as English as a Second Language (ESL) have been scaled back, he said.
Out of the 95 layoffs, 39 were instructional teachers, said Cavanna.
Catherine Delett, who has a child at Hazel Elementary school said her son's class has 23 kids, but "I don't think there's any (classroom) aide."
"What I've noticed so far is we're sharing an art teacher this year; our teacher is splitting her time between two schools," said Delett.
Delett also said she's noticed a small shoot up of the price for school lunch by 20 cents.
Megan Brill, president of the West Orange Board of Education said the school board tried to make the cuts affects the classrooms as little as possible by trimming transportation costs and consolidating co-curricular activities.
School start times were changed to take advantage of busing and reduce transportation costs.
Elementary schools now start 10 minutes earlier and middle schools five minutes later, said Brill. "Now we can have one bus doing high school, middle and elementary," she said.
Brill said parents will have to work around later start times for elementary schools, which may interfere with work schedules.
"I think there's more of a burden on parents now with the drop off and pick up but overall it was the best move that we could make because it doesn't affect instruction," said Brill.
U.S. Rep. Bill Pascrell (D-8) said Sept. 20 that the district will receive $315,573 from New Jersey's $268 million slice of the $10 billion federal Education Jobs Fund to help save teaching jobs.
Cavanna said he doesn't know yet how the cash will be divvied among the township's 11 public schools.
"I've met with some of the administrators and some of the central office staff, but we haven't made final decisions and we have to discuss it with the board," he said. "Within the next week or so, we will have recommendations for the board."
St. Cloud Elementary School principal Adam Geher said they've been able to maintain the entire program and the number of classrooms. "Unfortunately, a couple of people lost positions," he said, including an instructional aide and an ESL teacher.
According to Geher, the biggest issue is the supply budget that was nearly halved forcing teacher to become resourceful with fewer materials.
Brill said 10 to 15 percent of each of the district's 11 schools' supply budget was cut this year.
"We have to prioritize," said Geher. "Teachers have to learn to get creative in how they go about doing certain projects."
One of Geher's initiatives is to save costs by going green. "We have a big push to send flyers home using technology to reduce the number of papers we're sending home," he said.
Athletics and extra-curricular activities suffered a 15 percent cut, said Brill. For middle schools, while busing to games is still provided, busing back to school from the games were eliminated.
Clubs that were not well attended were either removed or combined with similar clubs. In particular, the language clubs were cut.
With less programs, staff and money, teachers and principals alike are finding new ways to maintain the quality of instruction.
"I need to become creative," said Edwin Acevedo, Hazel Avenue Elementary School's new principal. "I need to use the resources that are available."
Acevedo is starting a push to reach out to parent's and get them more involved.
"There's a wonderful pool of talent out there with our parents and we need to find ways to tap into that talent. They're willing to do volunteer work and they have certain expertise and experience that we can utilize," he said.
According to the New Jersey School Boards Association, the state has made budget cuts affecting school districts that total $1.2 billion since February.
Cavanna said the $268 million in federal education money approved for the state of New Jersey and the $315,573 for the school will only be a "stop-gap." "It's only a one-year solution," he said.
— Joshua Wilwohl contributed to this report.