Montville Township Committee Special Meeting – Board of Education Budget Review
Saturday, May 8, 2010, 8:00 a.m.
Montville Township Municipal Building, 195 Changebridge Road, Montville, New Jersey
8:00 a.m. – Statement of Open Public Meetings Act Compliance read by Chairman James Sandham, Jr.: “As required by the Open Public Meetings Act, adequate Notice of this meeting has been provided which Notice specified the time and place of the meeting to the extent known at that time. The Notice was posted on the bulletin board at the Municipal Building, mailed to The Daily Record, The Star Ledger, and The Citizen as well as other newspapers and it was placed on file in the Township Clerk’s office. This meeting has been properly noticed to the public in accordance with the Open Public Meetings Act.”
Roll call Township Committee:
Present: Committeeman Don Kostka
Committeewoman Deborah Nielson
Committeeman Tim Braden
Chairman James Sandham, Jr.
Absent: Art Daughtry, Committeeman
Also present: Frank Bastone, Township Administrator
Gertrude Atkinson, Township Clerk
Present Citizen Committee members: John LoBasso, Victor Canning, Jeneene Norman, Bernard Lenihan, Robert Lowenfish, Robert Lefkowitz, Leslie Byron
Board of Education members present: Jon Alin, Charles Grau, John Morella, Carmela Novi, Michael Palma, Paul Przetak, Jackie Ritschel, Matthew Kayne, Karen Cortellino, President
Also present: Rita Seipp, Interim Superintendent of Schools
James, Tevis, Business Administrator
Chairman Sandham asked the members of the Township Committee to introduce the members they selected for the citizen committee:
Committeeman Braden: Victor Canning and Robert Lefkowitz.
Committeeman Kostka: Robert Lowenfish and Ronald Young (Young not present).
Committeewoman Nielson: John LoBasso and Leslie Byron.
Chairman Sandham: Janeene Norman and Bernard Lenihan (past Board of Education presidents).
Karen Cortellinio, President, statement: Montville has good schools because we as a community have decided to pay for good schools. She urged the Township Committee to do the right thing for Montville Township. The backbone of Montville Township is our school system. She stated that they could not recommend any additional cuts because that would further damage the district. Our budget was work shopped in public by all nine of us. Challenges: lost $600,000 in financial aid. $3.2 million loss in state aid. We increased taxes a small amount over cap just to preserve some of what we had left. The final budget had no new programs. Multiple meetings were held with the bargaining unit. No concessions have been offered yet. Reviewed programs, classes, and staff cut. Raised rates of subscription busing. Proposed an activity fee. Our cost per pupil is well below the state average. This year, our administrative costs per pupil are frightenly low – nearly ½ of the state average. Our children of Montville have lost enough. They deserve more than what we are giving them. I would urge the Township Committee, the citizen advisors, and the consultant to trust our administrators and consider the children when you deliberate any further cuts. The future of the children of the district and perhaps the Township as a whole is in your hands.
Sandham stated the Township Committee has been offered concessions by each of our unions. We are evaluating them now. I would encourage the BOE unions to do that. That could be a significant part of the solution. We would welcome that.
Charles Ferraioli and Rob McNinch, of firm Ferraioli, Wielkotz, Cerullo & Cuva, P.A. Municipal and school board auditors, present.
Ferraioli stated the Township Committee, if they recommend cuts, has to identify the line items and the dollar amount by resolution. The BOE has the alternative of accepting the dollar amount and the line item or the dollar amount and choosing a different line item. If they disagree, they can appeal to the County Superintendent of Schools. The school budget that you vote on is the operating expenses. It does not include debt service. The tax levy that is raised – ½ of it in the current year, and ½ of it in the next year. If a person retires and they are not replaced that is a 100% savings in your budget. If replaced it can be a savings of $40,000 to $50,000. Rob will go over a list of suggested cuts. Some of them you may say impossible as you are in the middle of things, etc.
McNinch stated we came up with a total of $3.5 possible reductions we should look at:
1) Adjustment to the budgeted fund balance. Additional $652,674 carried forward. Went over Schedule 1. This is a macro level review. Projected out what we feel will be left at the end of the year.
Lenihan spoke about a reserves transfer.
2) Capital expenditures (Schedule 2). Battery backup and phone system – examine if these can be pushed to another period.
3) Schedule 3. Roof projects, central office relocation project.
Sandham stated the two roof projects have 40% matching funds we lose if we don’t use.
Ferraioli stated we did bean counting. We are not telling you that there is $3.5 million to be cut out of this budget. It can be looked at and get answers to.
Cortellino asked this is a laundry list you have made suggestions for? Ferraioli answered yes.
Tevis stated anticipated variances for the current school year. Spoke about tuitions for out-of-district placements. Some of those purchase orders have not come in yet. Child Study Team – would have to analyze separately. Went over the $600,000 transfer of reserves. We lost $650,000 in state aid in 2009-10. 2010-11 $3 million loss in state aid.
Tevis – schedule 2 – battery backup for main server. This was recommended by our technology manager – in dire need of it. Phone system – it has to do with the servers. We delayed these last year. The warranty expires in May this year.
Cortellino stated technology cut $54,000 out of the budget.
McNinch: Schedule 4 – General areas of salary/wage – athletics secretary position $29,000.
Schedule 5 – Propose the elimination of the assistant superintendent and the two clerical positions.
Schedule 6 – Recommend elimination of four vice-principals.
Schedule 7 – Recommend that the secretaries could be looked at.
Schedule 8 – Recommend looking at the reduction of two full-time positions to part-time positions.
Schedule 9 – Custodians. The State of New Jersey came up with the guideline of one custodian per 17,000 s.f of school. We applied that to this.
Schedule 10 – Estimated reduction in employee benefits.
Cortellino asked what is the educational perspective of these cuts? McNinch stated it is a perspective from the outside. Sandham stated these are proposed cuts that can be looked at.
Cortellino stated they need to have a basis for the cuts. We can’t do business with some of these cuts.
Grau stated you are recommending that we run a high school with one administrator. Also, if people lose their jobs, we have to pay unemployment. We have not yet seen retirements.
Seipp stated we have been cooperative. When I look at this document, we cannot do without these people. These are all support people.
Tevis spoke about mandates. Want to clarify the need for this support staff.
Sandham asked do you need the athletic trainer? Seipp stated that is a safety concern for the students.
Sandham asked was their any review of the number of coaches, etc. or dollars paid. Seipp stated we have an acting athletic director right now. We do not have an over abundant number of coaches.
Grau stated the amount paid to the coaches is under the union contracts. We cannot arbitrarily change that.
Sandham stated he sees the need for one vice principal in the high school and Lazar. Can you explain the need for two? Seipp stated there are 1,300 students in the high school. There are different tasks they need to do. One is in charge of all discipline and one is in charge of scheduling activities.
Cortellino stated our administrative costs are well below the county and state average.
Sandham asked what would be the impact of cutting 20% of the clerical assistance. Cortellino stated we already cut 2½ secretaries.
Sandham asked how much would it hurt to cut three secretarial positions? My choice would be to cut that rather than education instruction. Cortellino stated they are the backbone.
Sandham asked have you looked at outsourcing? Tevis stated we did look at outside payroll. It would actually end up costing more.
Sandham stated regarding outsourcing custodial staff – safety issues were raised. If we were to outsource the evening custodial staff, how much of a savings? Cortellino stated the board considered this. Our schools are very busy at night. Security. We decided not to privatize any of the shifts.
Sandham asked the total savings. Tevis stated about $400,000 to $450,000.
CITIZEN COMMITTEE COMMENTS:
LoBasso stated one of the things he looked at was lunch aides. What about going back to a volunteer basis? Seipp stated the lunch aides are teachers. There are aides we employ. If we start moving to volunteers – every one has to be fingerprinted.
LoBasso asked about outside maintenance of lawns and snowplowing. Tevis stated they have thought about that from time to time. Just discussed snow removal with the facilities manager. Cheaper to dedicate two men to landscaping full-time. Have shared services with the Township.
LoBasso asked about the teachers’ convention. Tevis stated the BOE does not pay for that at all. They take a professional day.
LoBasso asked about pre-school. Tevis stated we have a pre-school for the disabled.
Canning spoke about the elimination of the assistant superintendent. Is the main focus of the assistant superintendent to oversee the curriculum? Director of Curriculum – can they be merged? Seipp stated both of those positions are currently vacant. In their absence, we are falling behind – grants, reports, etc. In order to expect the superintendent to do that by himself is impossible for a district this size.
Kane stated we have eliminated all supervisors.
Canning stated you don’t have anyone in the position of Director of Curriculum so you are not hurting anyone. Just a thought – only here to recommend. It will be up to the Mayor and Committee.
Cortellino stated we have supervisors right now filling that gap. They are all gone as of June 30.
Canning stated I am trying to be objective. You made tough decisions. I commend you. However, we are stuck here with the dilemma of how much more can we cut, etc.
Cortellino stated you are not mandated to cut.
Canning asked about the projected health benefit costs. Tevis stated it is actually worse.
Sandham asked if the BOE heard back from the unions about changing to the State Health Benefits Plan. Cortellino stated we have not heard back. We have reached out many times.
Kostka asked how much of a savings would that generate? Tevis answered we estimated about $1 million.
Kostka asked what happens if the teachers accepted a wage freeze? Tevis stated $1.2 million estimated savings.
Sandham asked about the impact of the raises for the year. $1,357,000 in total. There is zero in the budget for administrators, supervisors, and business office staff.
Cortellino stated they will be in negotiations with the administrators. Their contract is up in June. Anything we do with the administrators is not going to have a tremendous impact on the budget.
Jeneene Norman stated part of this process is to help the public understand there is not a lot of leeway. Is it possible for the Township Committee to take a two-pronged approach? Make a smaller level of cuts or perhaps no cuts if the unions make significant concessions. I am suggesting putting more pressure on the bargaining units.
Sandham stated the voters defeated the budget. To me, that means that some level of cuts are necessary. If the teachers make concessions, that allows that less of those cuts need to be made. Norman stated I am suggesting putting more pressure on the bargaining groups that things would not be cut if we got concessions.
Norman asked about the substantial increase in the budget for tuition. Tevis stated it is for ten additional placements. Norman asked about the transportation study – cost to the district is $800,000. Tevis stated subscription busing cost the district approximately $700,000. It is less than that now because of the increased fee – down to $550,000. Norman asked if they have looked at extending the bus route capacity. Tevis stated we don’t want them to be over an hour. We do have one route that runs almost that long. We do overload our buses at the high school.
Cortellino stated our expended revenue from subscription busing may not all be realized. Discussion regarding subscription busing – fees to cover costs, rebidding, etc.
Norman asked about class sizes – there are two elementary classes that are under class size policy. Kindergarten sections – are you anticipating reductions? Seipp stated we are anticipating reducing sections in all elementary classes.
Kane stated at this point in time, special education students are mainstreamed in the classroom.
Lenihan spoke about transportation. $800,000 cost. $300,000 revenue. Part of that has been made up by the $100 increase. I think the goal of this is it should be self-sufficient. We are doing that with MEDLC. Could do it over time.
Lenihan spoke about the unions and benefits plan – traditional plan, coverage, co-pay’s, etc.
Lenihan asked if anyone has investigated the consolidation of their office with other towns. Grau stated they are looking at shared services. We will be attending a meeting Thursday night with the shared services commission. Lenihan stated I am talking about the whole back office.
Lenihan stated there are mandated surpluses for capital projects. He asked the consultant why they did not look at other parts of surpluses in capital projects.
Ferraioli stated we only looked at the part of the budget subject to the referendum. The others may not be encumbered. Lenihan stated I would ask for the next meeting that the other surpluses be included – an analysis of all funds.
Lowenfish stated hopefully we can reach a decision that satisfies almost everybody. He is not going to ask any questions right now – he is just listening.
Lefkowitz stated his focus is more on the revenue side. We are losing money for each student that takes the bus. He would propose we be self-sufficient. Activity fees?
Cortellino stated that is for every student in town. Lefkowitz stated his suggestion would be $50 per semester, per activity.
Lefkowitz asked if private tutoring would be a possible source of additional revenue. Clubs – would it be possible to have volunteers run them or run through the recreation commission. New facility in January. Does this budget depend on that?
Byron spoke about the leases for computers. Are they step leases? Tevis answered it has to do with tapering off the number of computers and prices. They are state contracts. Byron asked if your technology has all been brought up to date. That would decrease your printing costs – posting homework, etc.
Byron asked about pension costs. Does the state owe you any money or are they current? Tevis will check on that.
Byron asked why the busing fees are not the same. Cortellino stated the elementary school children more need to ride – so that fee was kept less. Byron stated everything should be self-sustaining. Tuition – is it the true cost of tuition we are charging? Fees for use of the buildings by other groups. Have we addressed that? Activity fees. There is nothing wrong with charging activity fees. Do we go back to the department heads and ask for their further recommendations on the budget?
Lefkowitz stated during the budget process there were several areas that you said could be addressed in the future, such as the activity fees. Has any of that analysis taken place? Tevis stated we looked at the athletic side. We have a firm handle on the number of participants.
Chairman Sandham opened the public portion.
Heidi Calcagno, 26 Crescent Road, Pine Brook, Woodmont PTA President and Co-President of the Presidents’ Council. I thought we would hear from the Township Committee the thoughts they have.
Sandham stated we will. Today is to get input from all the other committee members. Calcagno stated my concern is any misinformation that is out there. Do we have to cut to 4% cap? That is not the legal requirement that we have to do. Sandham stated there is no statutory requirement that we have to cut.
Calcagno stated lunch aides – volunteers are not guaranteed. Athletics – the athletic director is not the person doing the scheduling. The secretary is. Assistant vice-principals – there has to be enough principal presence. Assistant superintendent – keeps us in compliance. Activity fee – there is some discussion that could be had. MEDLC – could we make money from it?
Steve Cohen, 28 Nathan Drive, Towaco, stated this is a very difficult time for the town, and I appreciate the efforts of everyone involved. The budget was voted down and the first thing the Township Committee did was take $7,500 of taxpayer money and hire a consultant. Don’t agree with cutting vice-principals. I am disappointed that the BOE has made multiple efforts to meet with the teachers about the health plan; and the fact that $1 million will be saved. No one wants to cut anything that will affect the education process. I implore that if there are any teachers here, and I am a big supporter - quite candidly - you are dead wrong. Stop subsidizing subscription busing. Athletics and recreation – they should be self-supporting. As you go forward, please consider the health benefits.
Sandham stated the BOE and the Township Committee would welcome open discussions with all of the unions.
Joseph Tella, 25 Bromley Road, Montville, stated the town and the BOE have to compromise. Next teachers’ contract they have to discuss health benefits, pension, and raises. Going forward, we have to be much more diligent.
Sandham stated the BOE did go through a long negotiation with the teachers.
Margaret Gorsky, 14 Parkway Lane, Pine Brook, stated the class sizes are larger and there are no aides. The kids won’t have the advantage of clubs any longer. The BOE has already cut more than $3 million from our budget. Give them a chance to take these recommendations and look at them for next year. You don’t have to cut anything. Please don’t feel you have to get to a number.
Mark Newman, 11 Stafford Place, Towaco, stated there seems to be a feeling that the teachers are responsible. Over the last decade the state has raped the pension fund. I think our teachers made concessions when they worked for two or three years without a contract. I think it is very important that we all remember that people look at what school systems are like before they move into town. Newman spoke about the health insurance. Voting turnout – people don’t get out and vote.
Ewau Wu, 28 Dogwood Circle, Pine Brook, stated sometimes it is extremely hot in the schools in the summer and extremely cold in the summer. Can the temperatures be raised or lowered. Just keep people comfortable. Money can be saved in electricity.
Michael Palma, 10 Manchester Way, Pine Brook, member of the BOE but speaking for himself, stated East Hanover cut $59,000 from the budget. We have lost 100% of state aid. The only mandate the Township Committee has is to look at the budget and do what is best for district and the town. There is no mandate that anything be cut.
Melinda Jennis, 4 Cherokee Court, Montville, stated we have to look at what are the needs of our children. Special services – there is still no planning, goals, or objectives. There is still no director of special services. We are not taking a look at the children. Pathways does so many things. We have to plan better. Special education is no further ahead.
Scott Gallopo, 9 Nelson Lane, Montville, stated the consultant’s report is a top-down look. What I expected was a repot based on what would be viable cuts without cutting into muscle and bone. I am hoping that our consultants can work a little more closely with the people who know how it runs.
Karen Skaletsky, 22 High Mountain Road, Montville, stated there are probably some areas that can be cut, but I hope you really look at it from the perspective of children and parents. Vice-principal high school – 1,200 kids eat lunch at the same time. I would not want only one principal there.
Christine Fano, 10 Daro Court, Montville, stated she is very unhappy with our teachers’ union. Administrator raises – no more raises. No person deserves an automatic raise. Principals should be evaluating the staff – not the superintendent. Athletics – no more money put on the parents. Busing – the BOE gives incentives for parents because the traffic is bad, especially at Lazar. We love our teachers, but they need to help us. We have been there for the teachers. Now they need to help us.
Calcagno stated principals do evaluate the staff. Look at why the budget was voted down. Look at the demographics. Look at what the Governor suggested you do. Any cut and any income must be sustainable. The PTA has looked at the known cuts. We know we are not going to have clubs and cuts in supplies. Property owners will be taxed and then asked for more dollars to cover things.
Mark Tabakin, 3 Peach Tree Court, Montville, stated please don’t do any further cuts. They are already cut to the bone.
Andrea Wong, 16 Bogert Road, Montville, asked is there another health plan that would make the teachers more comfortable besides the state health plan.
Tevis stated the BOE is doing a very extensive RFP on other health benefit plans.
TOWNSHIP COMMITTEE COMMENTS:
Chairman Sandham they have a wealth of information today. The Township Committee needs to go back and digest the information. We do have another meeting Wednesday night.
Nielson asked do we have the cost per student per high school sport? Can we get that? Building temperatures – the Township did an efficiency study. There are grants available to get that report done. Surpluses capital projects and all funds – very interested in that. This is an unusual year because of the economy and what is coming out of Trenton.
Kostka stated to clarify the BOE comes up with the line items to cut. The Township Committee has to come up with the number.
Sandham explained the process: if we come up with a list of cuts, a dollar amount associated with it, and a line item. We also have to give it some flavor that it will not have educational impact. We have a responsibility to at least review the situation. The BOE agrees to it or not. If not, it goes to the County/State. If the BOE agrees, they do not have to apply it to each line item. They are agreeing to the total dollar value.
Braden stated he would like the cost per pupil for all extra-curricular activities. Athletic trainer – if it is after school, how is this a full-time job? Seipp stated it is swing hours and weekends.
Braden stated activity fee – it is a good idea. Would like to see it developed and fine-tuned. I would advocate a step program to make it equitable.
Grau asked if the committee were to cut $100,000 what would the tax impact be for an average assessed home? Maybe for Wednesday night we could have that.
Bastone will coordinate with Mr. Tevis on getting the information for Wednesday night.
Seipp stated she would like to extend an invitation to the Township Committee and citizen committee to join her in a tour of every single building. Would like to point out to you what we have now and what has already been eliminated from the budget. Will contact Mr. Sandham.
Sandham stated he has a couple of comments from me personally. The budget was defeated and that tells me something needs to change in that budget. The majority has spoken. We are not trying to be adversarial here. We will look to places that have no educational impact. I sat through the BOE meetings. I know how hard they worked. To me, as an example, the number of coaches. Also, teachers that bring their own children into the district get a discount. I’m not sure that needs to continue. School buses without full capacity. To me there has to be an answer to getting buses to full capacity. Maybe for a future year. Class sizes are most important at the youngest grades. High school offerings – we have expanded over time. I understand the importance of that at one level. Maybe it is time to start to offer a few less. Just something we should look at, in my opinion. The BOE budget went out at 4.6%. If you factor in the 5% cut they took already, it is at a .4% reduction. I still think we have a responsibility to review and see where else we might make cuts that won’t have an impact on the education. I would ask that the Township Committee members digest this information. When we come back on Wednesday night, both the Township Committee and ad-hoc members make recommendations for specific areas where we think we might make cuts that have no educational value. That would be a good beginning point. We have to make progress at the next meeting as to what the specific cuts would be.
Alin stated our business is solely about educating children. High school courses/electives – we have students who have received scholarships because of these courses. We get ranked every year. We are looking to create programs to bring special education back. We are cutting back on programs. We have asked the teachers’ unions. That will be handled in the next round of negotiations. You can’t put a number on what teachers do in the classroom. I just want you to go from the perspective of the students. That is the greatest impact.
Cortellino thanked the Township Committee for inviting them. I would request that all requests made of the BOE come from the Township Clerk or the Mayor. Students who want to participate in activities should be able to do so freely. There may be very complex reasons why the budget was voted down. The most important people who are invested in what we have done are the district’s children. That thought should be primary in your minds.
Sandham stated the next meeting is Wednesday night at 7 p.m.
Meeting adjourned at 11 a.m. Motion: Braden. Second: Nielson. All in favor. Motion approved.
Gertrude H. Atkinson, Township Clerk