The mayor and Town Council have cut the school budget and recommended reductions from utilities costs, business administrator salaries, and new hire salaries. It is now up to the school board to accept those recommendations or to trim from other areas to meet the agreed upon $129,500 in cuts.
The cuts last week reduce the net tax levy on residents from $31.6 to $31.5 million, which still means a tax increase of roughly $65.50 per average household as opposed to the $74 in the original school budget. School taxes represent just one portion of a tax bill, which also includes municipal and county taxes.
After voters last month rejected the $35 million school budget by a near tie (944 to 943) the mayor and Town Council were required by the state to conduct a review. The council was not obligated to make any cuts to the budget, which had an increase of $620,320 that was within the state’s two percent cap.
“I think that everybody is exceptionally happy.” – David Drumeler
Schools Superintendent Cynthia Randina and the school board unanimously accepted the cut and said they would not make any wholesale changes to the proposed suggestions when determining where to trim.
Council members described a review process which involved going line item by line item, comparing against last year’s numbers, and comparing against other school districts.
“What was different was the fact that we were able to reduce the budget and minimally impact our students and we can move forward,” said Randina. “Overall the council was very generous.”
“Both sides did a great job,” said School Board President Jack McStowe.
“We feel strongly about everything that we recommended,” said Mayor Micheal Gonnelli.
“I think this budget does a great job at meeting what the taxpayer’s goal was. It was very narrowly defeated,” said Councilman Gary Jeffas.
Cuts to utilities, new hire salaries, election
The initial line item recommendations for cuts included reductions from utilities to salaries for new hires. The list included eliminating $20,000 for telephone/communications, $12,000 from the school board election, $5,000 from water utilities, $15,000 from sewer utilities, $50,000 from gas and electric, and $10,000 from professional services in maintenance. The largest cut proposed, $100,000, comes out of the Business Administrator salary line to eliminate overlap in spending between the current interim business administrator who gets paid $120,000 and the reserve salary projected at $190,000 for the business administrator that is on leave.
Because two administrative staffers resigned, Administrative Assistant Cheryl Amacker, and Human Resources Specialist Yesenia Howell, the Council was able to propose $12,500 in a salary reduction for new hires to fill their positions. The salary to fill an information technology position was also reduced by $25,000. Another savings of $60,000 was projected from two retirements.
The only suggested cut that the school board said they could not agree to up front was the elimination of the $10,000 stipend for the Director of Elementary Education.
McStowe said that the school board is in negotiations with the principals and the directors and cannot make the stipend reduction the town recommended without undergoing the negotiation process.
Promising to work hand in hand
Both sides indicated the residual bitterness over last year’s $1.1 million in school budget cuts by the council had dissipated and was replaced with a desire to work peacefully.
“Last year we did nothing to touch surplus,” said Gonnelli. He said that he wanted taxpayers to know that the school district has a surplus that is not reflected in the budget that it can fall back on should an emergency arise.
The school district had $739,689 in surplus last year and this year has $771,887.
“There is going to be a renewed spirit of cooperation,” said Gonnelli. “It is really important that the school district maintain the high standard that it has…It is important to us that things run smoothly…We need to work hand in hand.”
“It was harmonious,” said Town Administrator David Drumeler. “I think that everybody is exceptionally happy that there could be a couple of things that were added back in to the budget that will help educate our children.”
“If you find something wrong, rather than putting it in the newspaper to create some kind of problem keep it out of the newspaper, and see Jack [McStowe],” said Councilman James Clancy. “We have to work together. We have to worry about the youth of this town and in a peaceful way.”
“If they continuously read, read, read negativity then people are threatening to move out of town for that reason,” said Gonnelli. “If there is an issue we can all sit and talk the issue out.”
“I can’t agree more with what you are saying about keeping the negativity out of the newspaper,” said Randina. “It portrays us in a much better light when we are positive…Let’s just infiltrate the newspapers with all the wonderful things that are happening in Secaucus.”
“They would come home from school and I would hear it,” said Councilman Gary Jeffas. He has two children in the school system and said that the negativity had an effect on them. “When they are in school their concentration needs to be on school and not hearing all the stuff that is going on between us, you guys, teachers, so forth.”
Adriana Rambay Fernández may be reached at email@example.com.