School budget woes cause cuts that the public finds painful

| 28 Sep 2011 | 02:49

    WEST MILFORD-"These are the people that regularly pass the budget, rarely complain and tend to take things in stride," said Tom Lichtenberg as he described about two dozen parents who showed up at the most recent board of education meeting hoping to impact some of the board's budget cut decisions. At issue is the decision to have two second grade classes of 25 children each at Maple Road, and to cut the Gifted and Talented Education program (also known as Learning Unlimited) from Macopin School. These decisions were the result of a $1 million shortfall in the budget. All districts in New Jersey have to adhere to 1701, a bill which prohibits them from increasing their spending by more than three percent. The bill was brought about in an effort to curtail wildly escalating taxes. For some districts facing expensive repairs or equipment replacement, 1701 can cause huge cuts in programing. In West Milford, the board had to figure a way to cut $1 million in order to come into line with 1701. Although they made cuts in all areas, some of them are more palatable than others to the public. On the middle school level, it was decided to move Joan Simpson, the Learning Unlimited teacher, to a different position with in the district. Members of the GATE Parent's Association found out about the decision to cut GATE when Simpson's move was on the board meeting agenda for approval. GATE Parent's Association President Bill Hambor objected to the decision, and the way it became public at a meeting last month. At that time, Superintendent Glenn Kamp said they would try to work out a way the program could become a 2/5 teacher position — meaning it would be a part-time program — but he didn't make any promises. Hambor brought the board a petition signed by parents and letters written by the students themselves. (See one of them on page 10). Until now, GATE has been an elective class in the middle school, taking up one period a day. GATE Parent's Association Vice President Steve Cowdin pointed out that 115 students were currently involved, which is roughly one out of every eight students. "It's not a pull-out program, which leaves an empty seat in the classroom," he said, "these students will have to go somewhere." Although the board will take the objections under advisement, without some source of alternative revenue, it is unlikely the program will be full time next year. Also upsetting to parents and teachers alike was the decision to maintain only two second grades at Maple Road School. Since there are 50 students, that means class size will be maxed out at 25. The district had previously set that maximum for itself, it is not state imposed. More than a dozen Maple Road parents and staff went to the board meeting wearing hand-made tags and hoping to convince the board of their belief that 25 is too many.