Despite an overall decrease in anticipated enrollment, the tentative West Morris Regional High School District budget includes a 1.83-percent increase in the amount of taxes needed from its five sending districts.
The regional school board presented its tentative budget for the 2014-15 school year at its most recent meeting this month, highlighting where the district stands amongst its peers in test scores and college readiness. In addition, Superintendent Mackey Pendergrast went over a quick-hit list of needs in the district along with decreases in appropriations.
While the tax levy increase remains below the state-mandated 2-percent cap, the overall increase in the budget is actually 5.11-percent with a total hike of $2,573,311. Much of that is due to an additional capital reserve withdrawal – which poses no tax impact – of $1,042,963.
Of the five sending districts, Chester Township will have the highest tax rate at 0.5594 cents for every $100 of assessed home value. Washington Township will actually see a decrease in its tax rate between 2013 and 2014, dropping from .5254 to .5161 – a difference of .0093.
The breakdown per town is as follows:
- Chester Borough: $1,829.16 annual tax payment to regional district on average home assessed at $462,961.
- Chester Township: $3,729.39 annual tax payment to regional district on average home assessed at $666,676.
- Mendham Borough: $3,648.87 annual tax payment to regional district on average home assessed at $705,096.
- Mendham Township: $4,778.68 annual tax payment to regional district on average home assessed at $910,919.
- Washington Township: $2,254.67 annual tax payment to regional district on average home assessed at $436,867.
- The projected enrollment decrease is expected to dip one student at Mendham High School and 47 at West Morris Central.
Among the district’s top priorities for the coming year include:
- Uniforms and faculty for the Mendham High School music program
- Two additional faculty members at Mendham High School (one of which would spend half his/her time in the music department)
- Expanded IB and AP programs
- Standardized test scores
- Special education program
- PARCC Readiness
- Career Academy Program
- Seamless WiFi capabilities in both buildings
- Curriculum and other strategic development initiatives
- New security cameras
- New locks
- New signage
- New infrastructure
- Personnel (additional security member at Mendham High School)
- Threat assessment priorities
A few line items drew discussion from the board, including the request for $40,000 in Mendham High School marching band uniforms. The original request, according to business administrator Doug Pechanec, was more than $49,000, but the finance committee stayed at $40,000 for the time being.
Mendham Township representative Jamie Button said he felt the request should be fulfilled at the original quote and parents should have no cost asked of them.
Mendham Borough representative Brian Cavanaugh took issue with the discrepancy in per pupil spending between the two school buildings, and said that while he would support the budget in its entirety, felt it needed some tweaking between now and its final iteration.
“I have one issue, and that is the persistent consistency of higher per pupil spending at one school over the other,” Cavanaugh said.
The staff at West Morris Central, due to its collective experience and level on the salary guide, earns between 8- and 9-percent higher average salary than the teachers at Mendham High School, according to Pendergrast. With that comes about a 17-percent higher payment of benefits at Central than at Mendham.
There are essentially two ways to change that discrepancy, Pendergrast said, and that would be to either move students or teachers from one school to another. It would take at least 81 students to move from Mendham to Central to account for the difference in per pupil spending.
The tentative budget did not include an anticipated change in the current teacher’s association contract, which has not been renewed since the end of the 2012-13 school year. Contract negotiations will go to a fact finder on April 2 between the union and district.
A vote to approve the tentative budget went 7-2, with Button and Chester Township representative Marcia Asdal disapproving of the measure.
Once the spending plan receives the go-ahead from the county superintendent, a final board vote will be held at its next regular meeting at Mendham High School on Monday, April 28 at 7 p.m.