Statement on the proposed 2014 – 2015 School District Budget

Update on meeting schedules noted here: The Maplewood and South Orange governing bodies no longer vote on the school operating budget if the increase is within the statutory cap limit. Therefore, the next meeting and action related to the school budget will be on Monday, April 28th when the Board of Education will hold a public hearing and take action to approve the tax levy to fund the 2014-15 school budget.

South Orange/Maplewood Special Education Parent Advisory Committee

SEPAC strongly opposes the proposed school budget.

We believe the cuts to special education are misguided and unfairly disadvantage children with special needs. 

We call on our elected representatives (the Board of Education, South Orange Village Trustees and Maplewood Township Committee members) to vote “no” on this budget and to require the District to propose an alternative to these cuts.

Why?

1)    The reductions disproportionately affect our most vulnerable population, the approximately 1000 children in the district with special educational needs;

2)    Reducing the number of highly trained special education professionals and services to special education students will increase the achievement gap in our district;

3)    The proposed budget and changes in service will put further strain on our general education teachers and administrators; and

4)    Slashing resources for special needs children may put the district at risk for violating federal IDEA, 504, and IEP regulations and will likely result in lawsuits for the district.

Positions slated for elimination: 6 Special Education Teaching Staff, 1 Child Study Team member, 1 Secretary, 0.5 Transportation Personnel, 1 Elementary Enrichment Teacher, 4 CHS Teaching Staff, and 2 Elementary Specials Teachers.

These cuts will mean:

  • Special Educators serving in a consultative role, limiting contact time with students to no more than 120 minutes a day.
  • Relying heavily on untrained paraprofessionals to support special needs students.
  • Children currently serviced in district being forced out of district, at a significantly increased cost to the taxpayer.
  • Dismantling of the co-teaching model, which along with the elimination and other valued services (like middle school resource rooms) puts more demands on teachers who remain.

The proposed budget cuts and the questionable rationale on which they are based perpetuate a pattern of hasty and shortsighted decisions negatively affecting students with special needs.

After spending millions in federal funding to create a co-teaching model five years ago, the District soon discovered that their approach was fiscally unsustainable and each year since has hustled at budget time to propose a new scheme – based not on best practices but on reducing services to students.  With special education services constantly shifting, the District has no data to verify what works and what doesn’t.

What parents are saying:

SEPAC has gathered reports of parent experiences within the district during the intervention, 504 and IEP process.  Concerns about poor communication, lack of transparency, access to related services (speech therapy), and inconsistencies between schools continue to grow.

We appreciate that school funding is fraught with challenges and that this is an especially difficult year.  If painful cuts are necessary, as taxpayers we want to be sure that these decisions are made with maximum transparency and ample opportunity for community discourse.

What teachers are saying:

Special education teachers, administrators, and child study team members have expressed increased concerns about the changes in programs and proposed cuts.  They believe that the District, at best, lacks a commitment to best practices and a clear vision for special education, and at worst, is in violation of the law and at risk for significant lawsuits.

For more information:

SEPAC’s statement at the March 4th BOE budget forum is available on our website (somsepac.org).  SEPAC is working with representatives from the BOE and will continue to reach out to the school district leadership in this matter.

Visit the District website for more information on the budget and reports from the DMC consultants on ways to minimize special education services: http://nj.somsd.schoolboard.net/sites/nj.somsd.schoolboard.net/files/B.%20boe%20budget%20presentaton%20march%2017%202014.pdf

http://nj.somsd.schoolboard.net/sites/nj.somsd.schoolboard.net/files/B.%20DMC%20SOMSD%20Update.pdf

The calendar for adoption of the budget and public forums has not been confirmed but the district will have a public forum, as well as a town council vote during the month of April.

Please attend these meetings and make your voice heard

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Budget Forum and District Budget Documents

On March 4, 2014, the district’s proposed budget for the 2014-2015 school year was presented to the Board of Education and the community.   Reductions in special education staff are again in the school budget plan and are included below.  A complete list of documents for the budget can be found on the district site here.   The information that follows was posted on the district site on March 5th:

Cheryl Schneider, Business Administrator and Board Secretary, reviewed the budget development process, highlighting the alignment of the budget to the district goals, indicating the amount needed to be reduced, where the reductions are proposed, and the tax impact of the Superintendent’s recommended budget.  Ms. Schneider also presented 5 year budget projections with a 2% operating tax levy cap.
The Board is considering all of the information presented, and will be discussing the budget in three upcoming meetings.

The 2014-2015 budget proposes a total expenditure of $119,765,545 and was developed to support the district goals set by the Board of Education. These goals are set annually and are designed to help the district continue to build momentum in enhancing student learning, strengthening teaching, engaging parents as partners, operating more efficiently, and doing more with less.

The guiding principle of the budget development is the alignment of the budget to district goals and strategy, and reining in spending on major cost drivers, as specified in District Goal Four. More information is available in the PowerPoint Presentation from the March 4, 2014, Board meeting.

Positions slated for elimination include:

  • 1 Child Study Team member
  • 1 Secretary
  • 0.5 Transportation Personnel
  • 1 Elementary Enrichment Teacher
  • 5 CHS Teaching Staff
  • 2 Elementary Specials Teachers
  • 2 Special Education Resource Room Staff
  • 6 Special Education Teaching Staff

Local Tax Impact
The budget proposes a total expenditure of $119,765,545, with a total school tax levy for the operating budget of $106,563,115 and $3,999,551for the debt service budget. This represents an increase over last year in the school tax levy of $2,201,202, or 2.03% in percentage terms. Of that, 2% is attributable to increases in the operating budget, with the remaining .03% slated to cover the increase in annual debt service.

Community Input on the Budget
The Board of Education welcomes and encourages community input on the budget throughout the process. In addition to discussions at monthly Board of Education meetings, a special Community Forum is scheduled for 7:30pm on Tuesday, March 11, 2014 in the District Meeting Room at 525 Academy Street in Maplewood, NJ.   The Board invites community input into the budget discussion at the Forum and other key Board meetings. Feedback can also be sent to Board members at:budget@somsd.k12.nj.us 
2014-2015 Budget Calendar

Mon., Mar 11 Community Forum on the 2014-2015 Budget
Mon. Mar. 17 BOE Meeting. BOE considers/adopts preliminary budget to submit to Essex County Superintendent for approval to advertise
Mon. Apr. 28 BOE Meeting. Public Hearing/Action to Levy 2014-2015 school tax