15 Sep 2014
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BOE Endorses Dolan Spending Plan; Defeats Finn Tax Plan

Board votes to spend over $500,000 of bonus state aid on new teachers and technology.

BOE Endorses Dolan Spending Plan; Defeats Finn Tax Plan

The approved the use of bonus state aid for hiring purposes, defeating a tax relief proposal for the .

The board approved spending $586,500 of the $845,449 in gave the school system on July 13 for personnel hiring and technology upgrades. The decision followed a recommendation from Schools Superintendent Margaret Dolan to spend the funds in this direction.

With Dolan and board members noting they want to deliver tax relief as part of the 2012-2013 school budget, the board adopted the plan Dolan delivered. She said the plan was developed based on pressing enrollment needs and keeping class sizes down in the elementary grades.

Dolan’s recommendations included:

SchoolRecommendationExplanationJefferson Second Grade Teacher Class size reduction McKinley Second Grade Teacher Class size reduction Tamaques Second Grade Teacher Class size reduction Wilson Fifth Grade Teacher Class size reduction Roosevelt Guidance Counselor Restore intermediate school counselor levels to three per school. TBD Intermediate School Librarian Restore dedicated librarians to both intermediate schools. Both Roosevelt and Edison currently share a guidance counselor. Westfield High School Two teachers to instruct additional sections of academic subjects and electives. Address rise in WHS enrollment. Westfield High School Physical Education Teacher Address rise in WHS enrollment. Westfield High School Computer replacement in technology lab. Replace with new equipment.

Dolan said in addition to the teacher and counselor positions, she was recommending $24,000 for the overhaul of the technology lab at Westfield High School. She said this would assist with the of increasing instruction of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).

BOE members characterized Dolan's recommendations of a restoration of personnel and programs in the district, noting past budget cuts. They said the proposal would benefit the district.

"You have done the right thing we the personnal recommendations," BOE member Ginny Leiz said.

The board’s decision to allow Dolan to proceed with the hiring came with BOE member David Finn repeating his call for part of the bonus aid to be allocated to tax relief. Finn pushed a motion – seconded by BOE member Mitch Slater – to vote to allocate half of the bonus for tax aid. Falling on similar sides as a vote at a July 15 BOE meeting, the board voted down the motion 6-2, with BOE member Rosanne Kurstedt being absent from the meeting. Finn and Slater were the only two board members to vote in favor of the immediate tax relief plan.

“I am a firm believer that spending every dollar you get your hands on is not being a good financial manager,” Finn said.

Under the Finn plan, the difference between the Christie aid and the Dolan recommendations would have been funded by additional funds the board found in health care savings.

Dolan and board members that voted against Finn’s motion stressed they are in favor of property tax relief but would rather wait to make a final decision on the plan. Several repeated calls from BOE Vice President Rich Mattessich at the July 15 meeting that deferring property tax relief to 2012 – and adopting the new spending on Tuesday evening – granted the board maximum flexibility.

“The money belongs to the people who wrote the checks,” Dolan said. “I have no interest in spending all the money. There will be tax relief. We need to keep an eye on doing what we need. It is unlikely that we will every again receive $845,000 as a surprise.”

Debate on Finn’s motion centered on which message the board wanted to send to the town’s voters. BOE member Jane Clancy said that Finn was setting up the board to send out a message of opposing tax relief, when board members have expressed support but want to wait on a final decision. Under the plan, the board is considering, tax relief would be included in the 2012-2013 school budget and would be sent out in the summer of 2012.

“I don’t think anyone on the board opposes tax relief,” Clancy said.

Finn said he believed the board would be able to send out the opposite message by passing his plan.

“It shows we mean what we say,” he said. “It’s about the message.”

Mattessich’s flexibility argument – first proposed on July 15 – continued.

“I don’t see a decision tonight to gives us maximum flexibility,” said BOE member Mark Friedman.

“I echo your sentiment,” BOE President Julia Walker said after Friedman spoke.

Finn could be heard softly responding to Friedman and Walker.

“That’s the easy way out,” Finn said.

Friedman and Finn, who have been aligned on other issues and who are both seen as members of the board’s “new guard alliance,” debated the impact of Finn’s resolution.

“I don’t think you are taking it to a more serious level,” Friedman said to Finn.

“It’s taking it to a serious level,” Finn said in response.

“You made a comment about fiscal responsibility,” Friedman said to Finn. “I don’t think that voting for the resolution you put out there means we are not voting for fiscal discipline.”

Friedman repeated comments he has made in the past about wanting to get more material before making final decisions on the board’s spending. He said this would include budget and enrollment information.

“If there is money for tax relief, I will be the first to vote for it,” Friedman said.

Dolan’s recommendations received support from the board members who had favored the spending debate during the July 15 meeting.

“I wholeheartedly endorse these recommendations,” BOE member Ann Cary said. “This would be the best way to spend this money. Providing this money in tax relief is not meaningful. Providing it for teachers is.”

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