March 26 Kiwanis Meeting Program: Tom Belding, President, Board of Education of the Chathams spoke on "School Budget and Programs"
He compared Chatham to neighboring districts. Recent per pupil annual cost in Chatham is approximately $12,000 compared to about $14,500 in Milburn. The number of students has grown - Chatham has managed education costs well. Compared to all of Morris County, the Chatham school district has had a history of providing excellent education for the dollar. SAT scores are very high in Chatham.
The first priority is the high school and Tom covered instructional, extra-curricular and facilities. Enrollment has almost doubled in the last decade. Growth is expected to continue over the next few years but enrollment will then level out.
District-wide overall enrollment growth is expected to level off with attendance at earlier grades falling off slightly. There is a large “bubble” of students working through the grade levels and that will cause continuing growth at the high school. Educators are being added to meet this challenge. Some older programs are being cut back to increase focus on more urgently needed new programs.
Extra-curricular activities are encouraged and participation by students is very large. These activities are very important because they prepare graduate for working in the real world. The school district funds faculty advisors to manage these programs.
Facilities at the high school are being expanded with the addition of a second floor over a classroom area installed about a year ago. This would add four classrooms and be funded out of capital reserves (it does not add to the tax base).
Tom explained the three questions which will be on the ballot at the April 16 School District election. The “first question” is the base budget. The next question is the “1st second question”. The last is the “2nd second question”.
The “1st second question” has to do with student wellness and well-being. This funds additional staff to help students. More students need counseling help and NJ State requires submission of more data and forms.
The “2nd second question” has to do with security of the students. The district has already installed secure access plus cameras on the inside and outside. This question funds additional improvements to security.
Districts budgets are limited by NJ State to annual increases in taxes of 2 percent; but several adjustments can be made to that amount. Enrollment adjustments and health care adjustment can be made. Also, if some of the authorized taxing amount wasn’t used in past years, it can be used this year. This is called banked cap.
With additions, the requested budget tax increase is 2.6 percent. If all questions are approved, the increase will be 3.46 percent. The total budget (without second questions), which is funded by $55,409,233 in taxes, is $65,131,111.
After Q and A, the members of the audience enthusiastically applauded the clear and comprehensive planning carried out by the Board of Education for the School District of the Chathams.