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BOE Endorses Dolan Spending Plan; Defeats Finn Tax Plan

Board votes to spend over $500,000 of bonus state aid on new teachers and technology.

The approved the use of bonus state aid for hiring purposes, defeating a tax relief proposal for the .

The board approved spending $586,500 of the $845,449 in gave the school system on July 13 for personnel hiring and technology upgrades. The decision followed a recommendation from Schools Superintendent Margaret Dolan to spend the funds in this direction.

With Dolan and board members noting they want to deliver tax relief as part of the 2012-2013 school budget, the board adopted the plan Dolan delivered. She said the plan was developed based on pressing enrollment needs and keeping class sizes down in the elementary grades.

Dolan’s recommendations included:

School Recommendation Explanation Jefferson Second Grade Teacher Class size reduction McKinley Second Grade Teacher Class size reduction Tamaques Second Grade Teacher Class size reduction Wilson Fifth Grade Teacher Class size reduction Roosevelt Guidance Counselor Restore intermediate school counselor levels to three per school. TBD Intermediate School Librarian Restore dedicated librarians to both intermediate schools. Both Roosevelt and Edison currently share a guidance counselor. Westfield High School Two teachers to instruct additional sections of academic subjects and electives. Address rise in WHS enrollment. Westfield High School Physical Education Teacher Address rise in WHS enrollment. Westfield High School Computer replacement in technology lab. Replace with new equipment.

Dolan said in addition to the teacher and counselor positions, she was recommending $24,000 for the overhaul of the technology lab at Westfield High School. She said this would assist with the of increasing instruction of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).

BOE members characterized Dolan's recommendations of a restoration of personnel and programs in the district, noting past budget cuts. They said the proposal would benefit the district.

"You have done the right thing we the personnal recommendations," BOE member Ginny Leiz said.

The board’s decision to allow Dolan to proceed with the hiring came with BOE member David Finn repeating his call for part of the bonus aid to be allocated to tax relief. Finn pushed a motion – seconded by BOE member Mitch Slater – to vote to allocate half of the bonus for tax aid. Falling on similar sides as a vote at a July 15 BOE meeting, the board voted down the motion 6-2, with BOE member Rosanne Kurstedt being absent from the meeting. Finn and Slater were the only two board members to vote in favor of the immediate tax relief plan.

“I am a firm believer that spending every dollar you get your hands on is not being a good financial manager,” Finn said.

Under the Finn plan, the difference between the Christie aid and the Dolan recommendations would have been funded by additional funds the board found in health care savings.

Dolan and board members that voted against Finn’s motion stressed they are in favor of property tax relief but would rather wait to make a final decision on the plan. Several repeated calls from BOE Vice President Rich Mattessich at the July 15 meeting that deferring property tax relief to 2012 – and adopting the new spending on Tuesday evening – granted the board maximum flexibility.

“The money belongs to the people who wrote the checks,” Dolan said. “I have no interest in spending all the money. There will be tax relief. We need to keep an eye on doing what we need. It is unlikely that we will every again receive $845,000 as a surprise.”

Debate on Finn’s motion centered on which message the board wanted to send to the town’s voters. BOE member Jane Clancy said that Finn was setting up the board to send out a message of opposing tax relief, when board members have expressed support but want to wait on a final decision. Under the plan, the board is considering, tax relief would be included in the 2012-2013 school budget and would be sent out in the summer of 2012.

“I don’t think anyone on the board opposes tax relief,” Clancy said.

Finn said he believed the board would be able to send out the opposite message by passing his plan.

“It shows we mean what we say,” he said. “It’s about the message.”

Mattessich’s flexibility argument – first proposed on July 15 – continued.

“I don’t see a decision tonight to gives us maximum flexibility,” said BOE member Mark Friedman.

“I echo your sentiment,” BOE President Julia Walker said after Friedman spoke.

Finn could be heard softly responding to Friedman and Walker.

“That’s the easy way out,” Finn said.

Friedman and Finn, who have been aligned on other issues and who are both seen as members of the board’s “new guard alliance,” debated the impact of Finn’s resolution.

“I don’t think you are taking it to a more serious level,” Friedman said to Finn.

“It’s taking it to a serious level,” Finn said in response.

“You made a comment about fiscal responsibility,” Friedman said to Finn. “I don’t think that voting for the resolution you put out there means we are not voting for fiscal discipline.”

Friedman repeated comments he has made in the past about wanting to get more material before making final decisions on the board’s spending. He said this would include budget and enrollment information.

“If there is money for tax relief, I will be the first to vote for it,” Friedman said.

Dolan’s recommendations received support from the board members who had favored the spending debate during the July 15 meeting.

“I wholeheartedly endorse these recommendations,” BOE member Ann Cary said. “This would be the best way to spend this money. Providing this money in tax relief is not meaningful. Providing it for teachers is.”

Westfield Mom July 27, 2011 at 11:22 AM
I would have rather seen the money spent on a renovation for Roosevelt. You will never get a chunk of money again to spend on a meaningful improvement such as that.
Richard Sauerwein July 27, 2011 at 11:35 AM
Hip hip hooray for David Finn and Mitch Slater! Nothing like a tax relief vote to bring out the true colors in a person. To Friedman, you look like a phony. If you have uncertainty, then better to hold on to the funds for a rainy day. Adding new teaching positions which will have to be paid for in the future from a one year windfall payment does not seem very fiscally conservative when taxes this year were raised again this year, thanks to the BOE budget increase.
Concerned Resident July 27, 2011 at 12:09 PM
I would have liked the board to hold this $$$ in reserve against possible shortfalls in projected revenue. I don't know why nobody offered this option. This would have offered the greatest level of flexibility
Concerned Resident July 27, 2011 at 12:11 PM
I think the board should hold this $$$ in reserve in case of there should be less than projected revenue. How come nobody discusses this option?
John Celock July 27, 2011 at 12:19 PM
Concerned Resident - just to jump in. The state does not allow school districts to hold the funds as a rainy day fund for future expenses.
Gary McCready July 27, 2011 at 01:34 PM
Few points: - using the money for second grade teachers is appropriate for such a windfall, as class sizes per policy are supposed to be lower in those grades; the good discussion will come next year to see if the class sizes can be allowed to go back up again. Since Wilson 5th graders are exiting the school at the end of the year, that position does not have to be carried forward. - The time to make the "tax relief" decision for 2011-12 was too short to be fiscially responsible in light of all the cuts from the last few years that could be restored. Regardless of what was voted to be spent (or not) on 7/26, the tax relief would be have been for 2012-13, which the Board still has at least six months to work on. - The BoE spend millions on renovating Roosevelt a few years ago - unless something breaks, I doubt it will happen again soon. - The BoE is limited in reserve funds to 2% of budget - the only discussion would be if they were holding less than that amount, which is probably not the case.
Li-Jing Chen July 27, 2011 at 01:54 PM
it seems to me that ann cary likes to spend money on teachers- perhaps she will win woman of the year from the NJ Teachers Union.
concerned parent July 27, 2011 at 02:22 PM
Hurray to Dolan, Cary and the others for doing the right thing - Tamaques and the other second graders need a reasonable class size. Most of us live in Westfield for the excellent school system the town purports to have. At least the Board has shown us they have the courage to do the right thing. I'm all for tax relief but not at the expense of our kids.
NR9 July 27, 2011 at 04:07 PM
@Li-Jing Chen. Ann Cary (and the majority of others on the board) are supporting Superintendent Dolan's position that there are four areas where the school population has swelled to levels where the high student-to-teacher ratio is of concern. Those areas are Wilson's 5th grade, McKinley's 2nd grade, Jefferson's 2nd grade and Tamaques' 2nd grade. Wilson's 5th grade is looking at class sizes of 27 students for the upcoming year. Meanwhile, the 2nd grades at McKinley, Jefferson and Tamaques could go as high as 25 or 26. For the younger grades, where students need more attention, many educators recommend class sizes no larger than 20. When attacking Ms. Cary (and presumably all the others on the board who are in agreement with her and with Ms. Dolan), please realize she is suggesting class sizes that have swelled be managed down to levels that will better serve the students in those four schools/grades mentioned above. She is NOT suggesting that the board use taxpayer money for her family to have an all-expense-paid trip for 7 days and 6 nights to the Bahamas. Please keep your negativity about Ms. Cary in perspective. Why do you think it is bad to spend money on more teachers? What do you feel is the ideal student-to-teacher ratio for the higher/lower grades? class sizes of 40? 50? more? How about class sizes of 70 so we can fire teachers and get property tax money back? For those who don't like high taxes/good schools, why move to Westfield?
anonymous July 27, 2011 at 04:55 PM
dont necessarily believe Roosevelt needs another guidance counselor. It would be nice to see money returned to the residents. Show something is being done to help us since many of us are struggling to pay the taxes we already bear. It seems that nothing ever gets done for the residents only the teachers to make their jobs easier and so they get more.
Kimberly Field July 27, 2011 at 06:36 PM
This seems to be about fairness- I think the fair thing would have been to spread the money around as Mr. Finn and Slater suggested. I also hope that Franklin and Washington are treated fairly as well and get an extra section- That really makes no sense to me at all.
M. Bowman July 28, 2011 at 01:43 AM
What is the "new guard alliance" and what are they all about? I hope board members have not decided to vote a particular way on any new business brought before them (i.e. tax relief is paramount and there is no justified new spending in the schools) nor that there is an "agreement " or "pledge" between board members to vote as a block. I hope this was just sloppy reporting. The school budget was decimated last year. The new money should go back to the schools.
Westfield Mom July 28, 2011 at 03:07 AM
Regarding Mr. McCready's comment on Roosevelt, if you spent millions you got ripped off.
Gary McCready July 28, 2011 at 04:02 AM
Well, anyone who has renovated their house can vouch for the cost of construction in Westfield. To go back to pre-patch days, you can check out what I think was close to the original proposal at http://www.goleader.com/06sep07/06sep07.pdf
Tim July 28, 2011 at 04:19 AM
If I remember correctly the RIS project actually came in under budget at about 1.2 million. I find it ironic how Ferraro's Explosion is on the front page of Gary's link
Rose July 28, 2011 at 01:39 PM
I find it ironic how Gary since leaving his NJEA cronies (that kept him in check on the School Board )has a comment on everything now- Don't get me wrong that is his and everyone's right -
Gary McCready July 28, 2011 at 05:15 PM
And I thought I was speaking out too much at the board table as it was! Actually, as a member of the board, speaking outside of a board meeting in a public forum can be seen as speaking for the board, which of course you are not. I would say providing pointers to published facts (if they are published!) is ok, but even that could then provoke comment that would be hard to resist. A member of any board should behave as such, as opposed to someone elected to a specific position (i.e. Mayor, Senator, etc.) where there are less ethical restrictions. But, FWIW, everyone has their view of the world, and I did not think that my view was necessarily THAT pro-NJEA while on the board
Lisa B August 30, 2011 at 12:36 PM
I hope Tax Relief is granted at tonights BOE meeting-not just a Teacher Hire Fest- The Hurricane has hurt residents all over town and they could use the money- (despite Mrs. Carys comments earlier this summer)-

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