Activity Fee to Remain the Same

BOE discusses proposal from Slater and Finn to use bonus aid to end fee.

High school and intermediate school parents will continue paying the when school starts in September.

The briefly discussed – and dismissed – ending the during Tuesday evening’s meeting. The fee was implemented at the beginning of the 2010-2011 school year in response to Gov. Chris Christie’s to by in March 2010.

BOE members Mitch Slater and David Finn pressed the possibility of using part of the to eliminate the . The BOE decided Tuesday evening to use the to hire new personnel and upgrade the high school technology lab. Slater and Finn pressed using the funds for .

The BOE has twice defeated – on Tuesday and July 15 - Finn proposals for tax relief from the bonus aid. Finn’s Tuesday proposal was to use half the funds for tax relief. Chrisitie has pressed using the bonus aid for tax relief.

“My personal opinion is it is a parent tax,” Finn said.

Finn voted for the implementation of the when he voted to pass the in March 2010. He also voted in favor of the activity fee when to implement the fee in the summer of 2010.

“I think it is something is not fair,” Finn said Tuesday evening. “At what point do we take it away.”

Schools Superintendent Margaret Dolan said the activity fee was well implemented and stressed that no student was prohibited from participating in student activities if they could not pay the fee. The includes a $125 per year fee for students who participate in at least one athletic or theater program and a $60 a year fee for students who participate in other activities.

Students who cannot pay can seek waivers from school officials, which were easily granted this year. In addition, Dolan has noted in the past that residents have donated additional funds to offset activity fees for those in financial need.

“I think it went well this year,” she said. “When someone could not pay we did not keep a child out.”

The activity fee was implemented after the BOE proposed cutting eighth grade athletics and intermediate school musicals as part of March 2010 budget cuts following Christie’s aid cut. Parents asked the BOE to implement the fee to keep the activities in place. In prior budget years, the BOE had cut stipends for clubs at the high school and intermediate school levels.

Dolan noted this is not the first student activity fee in Westfield history. She said WHS students were paying such a fee in the 1960s as well.

“I don’t think it is the first thing to go,” Dolan said. “I think tax relief for everyone is first.”

Interim BOE Business Administrator Vincent Yaniro said that since the activity fee is considered extra revenue, a cut in the fee would reduce the total level for the two-percent tax cap that the state has imposed. He said this could reduce the amount that the BOE could raise taxes by annually.

Slater said that he would like to see the fee reviewed again in the future.

“I am unsure that we are doing anything for the stakeholders,” Slater said of the board’s decisions on the bonus aid.

NR9 July 28, 2011 at 02:29 PM
There are two comments above that seem pretty representative of a lot of the people who want tax relief. Here are excerpts from those commenters... @Marni Sunshine: "the State is giving back the funding." @Anonymous 8:46am: "How do you get back almost a million dollars and offer nothing to relieve the taxpayers?" I don't think these two commenters (and others with similar views) are realizing what actually took place between Westfield and Gov. Christie. This should be clarified by looking at the actual numbers. As indicated in the article above, $4,220,000 in state aid was SLASHED by Gov. Christie. Then $845,000 was RESTORED (the article calls it "bonus state aid"). This would suggest that the Westfield school district is still operating with $3,375,000 LESS for the 2011-2012 school year than back in the 2009-2010 school year. The school district has become very lean relative to 2009-2010 and this $845,000 restoration is simply making the $4,220,000 hit a little more bearable. The $845,000 is NOT some lottery windfall for the town/school district as many are suggesting. It is just making a big hit a little "less big". I do think Marni Sunshine and Anonymous 8:46am and others would have a stronger argument if the full $4,220,000 in slashed state aid was being restored AND another $845,000 was coming in on top of that. If that were the case, yes, a very strong argument could be made for tax relief. But, that is not the case, unfortunately.
Thomas Paine July 28, 2011 at 02:55 PM
Sounds like NR9 is an insider and is twisting things to fit their version. The fact remains that other towns throughout New Jersey are giving back some or all of the money to taxpayers and Westfield has chosen to hire teachers and continue charging parents an activity fee- Townie is so right - a $90myn budget and they can't find the money in some other place ?
NR9 July 28, 2011 at 02:57 PM
Nope. Not an insider. Just a regular citizen.
Townie July 28, 2011 at 03:14 PM
NR9, Per this other article link below from yesterday, Dolan said we received $845,000 and now ANOTHER http://westfield.patch.com/articles/dolan-reminds-boe-of-state-aid-cuts-history
Marni Sunshine July 28, 2011 at 03:18 PM
@NR9 - regardless of how much was "slashed" and how much was restored is not relevant. The FACT is that the BOE implemented a student activity fee saying it was necessary because of the 'slashed' aid from the state. Because NOW the BOE is receiving money back (it doesn't matter they have been operating with less funds...apparently they can manage) the student activity fee NEEDS to be dismissed now. I agree with the other comments people have made...students should not feel as if they CANNOT participate in an activity or a sport because they are too embarrassed to say they can't afford the fee. Again - Dolan gets away with it because the tax payers allow it. I also agree that the position of the Superintendent should absolutely be voted on !!!!!
Marni Sunshine July 28, 2011 at 03:19 PM
@Thomas Paine - agreed 100%.
Townie July 28, 2011 at 03:23 PM
NR9, Per the article link below from yesterday's Dolan presentation, we got $845K back from the state twice this year, so according to that article we're down $2.5MM as compared to the 2009-10 budget, not $3.4MM per your comment. We're now getting about $2.1MM per year from the state in total. I'm sure just a misunderstanding on your end. Personally, I agree with adding the elementary teachers, those class sizes were too high, but we should have done away with the activity fee and sent at least some money, say $200K, back to the taxpayers. Remember, doing away with the fee is also effectively a tax reduction, don't be fooled because that fee is worse than a tax, its not deductible on your tax return. If you have 3 kids you have to pay $375! The big problem was the 3.9% raise given last year for 3 years, if that was 1 or 2%, there would be plenty of cash to go around and we wouldn't be having any of these discussions. The activity fee was put in due to a panic situation with the $4.2MM loss in aid, now it needs to go away. I don't care if other town are doing it or not, we shouldn't be doing it, its elitist and unnacceptable. See link to Dolan's presentation below http://westfield.patch.com/articles/dolan-reminds-boe-of-state-aid-cuts-history
Jeff B July 28, 2011 at 03:38 PM
NR9 wrote: "The school district has become very lean relative to 2009-2010" Not quite. They increased teacher salaries 3.9% per year, for three years. This was a decision made months before the old contract ended and about a week before Governor Christie's cuts of some unknown size were known to be coming. If this were a real business, either the deal would have been rescinded because of a major change in circumstances or leadership of the company would have been replaced. While increasing class size at the elementary school level is certainly a valid concern, the Board of Education could have been honest with the community and said that the increase in teacher salaries was given priority over small class sizes and that, in tough times, it is very difficult to have both. Furthermore, the folks who equate high taxes with good schools are, in my opinion, not recognizing that the correct correlation is between high taxes and high teacher salaries (because salary is a major percentage of the budget). If these teacher salary increases had never been implemented, at the end of this 3-year contract both class sizes and property taxes could have been lower than they will be and the school system arguably better.
Susan Edelmann July 28, 2011 at 03:43 PM
Dear Ms. Sunshine and friends, If $4+ million was cut and $845,000 + $845,000 was restored, the district still has $2+ million less to spend that 2 years ago. While I would like to see lower taxes and the activity fee disappear, what would we give up instead? Parents of 2nd graders turned out in force to express their desire for smaller classes. High school kids need to take electives. And I'm sure that your house, like mine,is worth more than it would be in another town, and that is because of the schools. What possible "hidden agenda" could the Superintendent have? How would she benefit by restoring teachers to the district. The rule is "follow the money." It's clear why Finn and his friends want tax relief...Finn's kids go to private high schools and he doesn't want to pay for Westfield Public schools when he has private tuition to pay. Friedman no longer has kids in school; he's happy wants to starve the public schools now that his kids have had a good education. Lower taxex means he'll have more money in his pocket to pay college tuition.
Mark Friedman July 28, 2011 at 04:01 PM
Ms. Edelman, happy to see that you have an opinion but its always helpful if you get the facts right. My kids will still be in the schools for another year and at last look, I will be on the Board for at least 2 years AFTER they graduate. I ran for the school board NOT to starve them but to be certain that they kids of Westfield are able to attend the best schools possible with the resources that we have available. Nothing that I have done so far in my short tenure would indicate that I am here for any reason other than to contribute my experiences to the Board. Please attend the next Board meeting and any others so that you can make informed decisions about all of our points of view, rather than creating them from what you read.
Townie July 28, 2011 at 04:10 PM
Ms. Edelman, Really? Please. First of all, from the articles it was Finn and Slater, not Finn and Friedman that wanted to immediately give the tax relief. Second, are you so sure they (Finn, Slater, Friedman, whomever you are talking about) don't have any kids in the Westfield schools, I think you might have those facts wrong too. Third, do you really think they would subject themselves to the massive amount of work being on the BOE entails, for no pay, in order to starve the public schools? If as you say their kids are in private schools and they don't like the tax bill, they could just move, wouldn't that be easier than volunteering time in a thankless job that will result in only small tax relief it it ever happens. Sorry, your comment doesn't hold water. Our schools have lots of programs that othe rdistricts don't have. I'm glad Westfield can, but... please, our schools aren't starved. I do agree that some class sizes are too high though (Edison middle school), again, that's the BOE's fault for 3.9% raise.
NR9 July 28, 2011 at 04:11 PM
In fairness to Mr. Friedman and Mr. Finn, I propose that readers read Susan Edelmann's otherwise EXCELLENT comment just through the 2nd sentence of the 2nd paragraph. And, as for there being two $845k restorations instead of just one, I appreciate that error being pointed out by several readers. And, I appreciate Susan Edelmann pointing out that the $845k + $845k is still well below the $4.2m slashed by Gov. Christie.
anonymous July 28, 2011 at 04:25 PM
I dont have kids in private schools and i would like tax relief. I would also like a 3.9% raise. In this economy you dont see that anywhere.
tb2k July 28, 2011 at 04:36 PM
Josh is partially correct. While the 3.9% raise was part of the new contract, also part of the contract was a change in health plan that was less costly for the district, and in increase in employees' medical contributions. These changes increased the overall compensation by 0.8%. The overall cost to the district increased by 0.8%. Look it up, I'm sure you'll find it. There are so many people spouting 3.9, 3.9 OMG 3.9 how dare they give them 3.9%? Townie wrote "if that was 1 or 2%, there would be plenty of cash to go around and we wouldn't be having any of these discussions." Well the Board did better than 1 or 2%, they gave the teachers 0.8%. Is there plenty of cash to go around?
Lisa B July 28, 2011 at 04:38 PM
Mr. Solomon- I don't think Westfield saved money with 4% raises and furthermore if more teachers were needed after all the cuts last year why didn't the local Teachers Union step up to the plate to help their own out? Thats what happened at my company when we had layoffs- We all took pay cuts (not 4% raises) to save the jobs of our friends and co-workers but not the Westfield Teachers Union- they refused I believe to give anything back. Selfish if you ask me.
Townie July 28, 2011 at 05:21 PM
tb2k, Lets discuss this issue of the teacher raise %. I and approximately 29,000 (i.e., the whole town)have spoken of the 3.9% increase, even Gary McCready in his blogs has agreed it was a mistake, now that off BOE. The then BOE members were pretty angry at Governor Christie for taking our aid away right after they voted on the raise, I don't think they would have been so annoyed if they could really make a case that it was 0.8%. If I recall, there was a letter to the Editor by a certain incumbent for the BOE, wherein he claimed that the 3.9% salary increase was actually a 0.8% net net increase when you factored in the revised health insurance contribution by the teachers. A week or 2 later he and the other incumbents were crushed in the re-election by Slater. As far as I know, this claim of 0.8% was never independently confirmed. If there was any truth to the 0.8%, one would think a real computation with the details would be released publicly. We could all check it to see if its correct, lots of people good at finance in this town. Of course, the details have never been shown. Actually, I can do it right here. If a 3.9% increase becomes a 0.8% increase, that means the teachers each gave back 3.1% of their salary in increased health care contributions. If the average teacher's base salary is $75,000, that would mean they paid about $2,300 more in health benefits than in the previous year. Can someone on the BOE confirm what the real change was, with the detail?
tb2k July 28, 2011 at 05:44 PM
Your insinuation that the 0.8% figure is a lie is a pretty serious accusation. I would also like to point out that just because the board member who wrote about the 0.8% failed in his bid for reelection doesn't make the 0.8% figure untrue. I attended those board meetings. They were contentious for sure. When the board members spoke of the 0.8%, it was in one ear and out the other for the people who took the microphone. They still went after the raise, the raise, the raise. There's more to the contract than the raise. The board doesn't vote on the raise. The board votes on the contract, of which the raise was just one part - just so happens it's the only part people are talking about. Do you think that the board just flippantly threw the WEA a raise and rubberstamped the contract without getting anything back? Lisa B wrote the teachers were "selfish" and that "they refused I believe to give anything back." This is simply not true. We've already discussed one of the givebacks with the health care changes. Another was the contract change that keeps WEA members from bringing their children to Westfield schools from other towns. I bet there are others. Hopefully a board member or perhaps John Celock can post a complete list of the contractual changes so we can talk about the contract as a whole and maybe then we can determine if the 0.8% is inaccurate as you suggest. On a side note, I'd like to see your source that the average teacher's salary is $75,000.
Marni Sunshine July 28, 2011 at 05:46 PM
Well said Townie !
Jeff B July 28, 2011 at 05:49 PM
townie, another point is that the impact of the 12% salary increase stays with us forever - including in pension benefits and in the starting point base for future salary increases. A future 2% increase on a $84,000 base is $180 more than 2% on a $75,000 base (without the 12% increase). Furthermore, I believe that a new state law mandates increased public employee contributions to health plans starting soon - so we might have gotten that trumpeted offset anyway?
Jeff B July 28, 2011 at 06:01 PM
tb2k, the beginning teacher (lowest) salary is a stunning $57,000 for a basic college degree, as has been published in the Westfield Leader. Considering automatic incremental pay increases for additional education and years of service, and a maximum of over $100,000, a $75,000 average seems entirely plausible, and possibly low.
Townie July 28, 2011 at 06:10 PM
Jeff, Great points, once the base is raised, we are always working off the new base. Good luck trying to actually lower the base, would never happen. Its the gift that we keep on paying. Tb2k, What are you getting so angry about, we are seeking the truth? Nobody's accusing anything, I just stated what happenned last year. Let the data speak for itself, it hasn't spoken yet and its been a year and a half, if someone on BOE wanted to prove it was 0.8%, if it was me, I would have come out with the full analysis. Wouldn't you? The starting teacher base salary for a 22 year old without a masters is $57,000 plus benefits. They get a raise every year. With a masters they start at more. I approximated $75,000 as the average salary, if you ask the board this is probably more or less right for a teacher 15 years in with a masters, which would be about halfway throuhg their career. Whether its $70 or $75 or $80 doesn't really matter anyway, so why are you nitpicking, the point is how much was the give back??? I wish it was really 0.8%, it would make me feel a lot better about our elected officials, please prove the numbers!
tb2k July 28, 2011 at 06:34 PM
I would share your disappointment if the 0.8% turned out to be a bogus number. If the board is asked to share these numbers, and they don't, I agree that it's suspicious. We're in agreement that we should be given these numbers to determine what the actual giveback was. On a side note, if $75k is the average, then that's what it is. I just said I wanted to see your source.
Jeff B July 28, 2011 at 06:36 PM
Townie, I would bet you that a "for a teacher 15 years in with a masters" the salary is a lot higher than $75,000.
Brad July 29, 2011 at 01:53 AM
Can we go back to the awful activity fee which is the bulk of this article? I understand asking for a fee for athletics and performances since they cost so much money to put together (I don't necessarily agree with it since it is a public school, but I understand it). The key problem with the activity fee is that they asked every student who participated in any club to pay the fee. There are many clubs that a teacher creates on their own time in the schools (especially in our elementary/intermediate schools). Those clubs cost nothing to the district if a teacher volunteers their time and does not receive a stipend. However, those parents were asked to pay a fee. That is just ridiculous and is something the board needs to seriously fix. A club where a teacher gets a stipend or the districts spends money to help produce (play/musical) certainly makes sense to have a fee but the other ones should certainly not have a fee. That was just straight up revenue for the district and was cheating the system.
Gary McCready July 29, 2011 at 02:53 AM
I think these 3.9% discussions will never die; in short, all budget numbers are estimates, and the 0.8% I believe was a pretty accurate one based upon the numbers available at the time. It would always be hard to pin down an exact number as you would have to compare the actual amount spent on insurance in the following year versus a theoretical amount that would have been spent under a different insurance plan. The funny thing is the savings might be even more in later years, as higher co-pays dissuade people from doctor visits they might not really need (dermatology comes to mind) and exploring other drug options (such as OTC allergy medicines vs prescription) so the "experience" (money spent on claims) might be lower which in turn gets a lower increase in the insurance rate for the next year. The "number" is not simple. But of course the BoE could always release the actual numbers if they wanted to. The other end of the question is "Was 3.9% a good deal?" Before Christie did his cutting, due to the arbitration that contacts reach when parties can't agree, probably yes at the going rate was above 4% with no insurance consessions. Afterward, probably no. We will never know the number that would have been reached, and the insurance deal struck if the Board would have waited.
Jeff B July 29, 2011 at 05:26 AM
With respect to Mr. McCready's comments, on 4/8/10, Mitch Slater wrote in the Westfield Leader, "Mr. Flynn pointed out correctly that 70 percent of the budget this year is salaries, which means a 3.9- percent increase amounts to an additional cost of $1.5 million (after subtracting $1 million in healthcare savings." That mathematically would mean that the net salary increase in the first year of the contract was about 2.3%. Furthermore, there were no contracted offsets to the 3.9% increases in the subsequent 2 years of the contract, which the Board never talks about. There would also be pension cost increases, with such costs eventually going up by the full 12% salary increase. As for dermatologist visits, if you had had skin cancer discovered by one in a place you could not personally see or knew 2 people who died of melanoma, you might have a different attitude about dissuading people from such visits and its impact on plan costs in later years. End stage melanoma costs a fortune. I think Brad makes a good point that charging an activity fee if the activity does not cause any material extra costs to the school system does not seem right at all.
Gary McCready July 29, 2011 at 11:23 AM
few quick points: - the 70 percent is all salaries and benefits, not just teacher salaries, so you can't work from just that number. - the savings number is probably off the current benefits cost - you would have to estimate the increase of the cost of the higher benefit level to be more precise - I'm not thinking of cancer, but of "pimple visits" or even getting that full body scan every year vs. every two, etc. - Teacher's will also be forced to contribute more going forward, which will have an effect on salary talks, as will increase pension contributions. The thing to push for next budget season is a full reveal of the numbers, at least enough so that the incremental cost to the district can be determined.
Concerned August 07, 2011 at 01:32 AM
What about putting the next NJEA contract up for public review and approval? This was done several years ago when the high school built the expansion. The whole budget voting process does not make sense - the public does not have the opportunity to vote on the teacher's contact, the largest component of the budget. By the time budget is put up for public voting, the NJEA contact is in place, so there's really no opportunity to vote for or against it. Gary McCready - was this ever discussed at BOE meetings in the past and what is your view on this proposal?
Gary McCready August 07, 2011 at 03:32 AM
I'd agree the whole budget voting process does not make sense - but for a different reason. For just about the only tax you get to vote on every year, the state puts on so many restrictions and limits it almost does not trust the public to cast a vote in support of what the community wants. To tie a specific expendature to the budget vote would be too limiting - if the BoE could not make a deal by the deadline, everyone would have to wait a year for a new contract or revision if it was voted down. That would adversely affect the budget process. Believe me, there was always discussion on if the a proposed contract is reasonable for all, including taxpayers who might vote against the next budget, and the budget increase in general. A better idea would be a county/state contract template every contract could be compared against to give both the BoE and the taxpayers a good idea on how it stacked up, like the data in the other link I posed re contract settlements from the school boards association.
Susan Svitil August 07, 2011 at 01:10 PM
Great idea Concerned! Put the Teachers Contract up for a vote or at least Public Meetings- 80% of our taxes go to this one source and we the people deserve to at least know more and possibly get a vote. I for one hope the teachers do not get any raise in their next contract since they were unwilling to give back any of the inflated raise they got a few years ago.


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