In West Milford school budget pushes tax burden up

The West Milford Board of Education (BOE) on March 18 introduced a $74,297,095 proposed budget for the 2014-15 school year. Business Administrator Barbara Francisco said the annual school tax increase (including debt service) would be about $127.21 for the owner of property valued at $247,000 – where taxes for the current year totaled $4,653. Former BOE member James Foody, the only speaker from the public, said he could only wonder what the impact would be on higher value lakefront homes.

Francisco said the BOE presented the tentative budget prior to the required executive county superintendent’s approval for advertising purposes. The public budget hearing and vote for final adoption is scheduled for April 29 at 7:30 p.m. in the Westbrook School Media Center.

In accord with the preliminary budget the tax rate would increase by $19.21 for every $1,000 of assessed value with last year’s rate of $18.84.

Amount of $72,416,277 to support the general education fund is $2,537,160 more than for the current year. The special revenue amount requested is $1,342,535 and debt service is $538,283. The general fund tax levy totals $53,042.837 and for debt service it is $497,390 for a total of $53,540,227.

Total state aid amounts to $14.6 million.

Foody suggested that the BOE avoid increasing the tax burden on residents by using surplus money to offset the increase in taxes. He said if the district has $3 million to move forward or put into reserve accounts every year it appears that this amount or more could be available for use in the budget instead of spending it on unbudgeted items throughout the school year. The former trustee questioned and objected repeatedly to budget transfers proposed and approved during his tenure on the board.

“It’s a cycle that repeats itself every year – a bounty of $6 million or almost 10 percent every year that the board can spend as they wish,” said Foody.

Defining his stand, Foody said the 2012/13 budget had a fund balance of $2.3 million – which moves to the 2014-15 school year. If $750,000 was moved into capital reserve that surplus would have been over $3 million, continued Foody. He went on to say that if the $3 million that was spent on items that were not budgeted for, that surplus would have been over $6 million.

In the 2011/12 budget year there was a fund balance of $1.8 million, he continued. With the $750,000 that was transferred to capital reserve and the $500,000 that was moved to the maintenance reserve, the surplus again is over $3 million, said Foody. He added that if the $3 million that was added from various accounts to pay for things that the district did not budget for, again, that surplus the figure would have been over $6 million.

The hiring of a math coach for the elementary schools is a highlight for next year. School Superintendent Dr. James V. McLaughlin said the district’s math scores are not what they should be and aggressive action is being taken to help the students. He said emphasis will be on an effort to enable younger children to approach math with greater confidence and competency so that by third grade level there will be improvement in their proficiency. He said the challenge for parents who have learned math by a different process than is used today will be addressed so they will be able help their children with homework.

New textbooks including e-licenses where applicable across all grade levels, replacement of classroom and lab computers at Marshall Hill and Upper Greenwood Lake Schools, e-portfolios for high school students, band uniforms (with funding help from the Band Parents Association), replacement of five buses and replacement of two maintenance trucks were also highlighted.

Capital projects include boiler replacement at West Milford High School offset by ROD grant funds, auditorium replacement at West Milford High School and skylight removal and roof replacement at Marshall Hill School.

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