All of the paraprofessionals present at the end of the Margate Board of Education meeting Monday, March 11 took to the microphone to thank the board for keeping their positions intact. Only one of the nine positions slated to go part-time without benefits would be eliminated, Interim Superintendent Thomas Baruffi said.
Meanwhile in Ventnor, the school board agreed to fill all the vacancies created by the retirements of several teachers and were able to find cuts elsewhere in the budget.
Both school boards are struggling to right-size their budgets amid declining enrollment and fulfill the wishes of their respective Boards of Commissioners to come in with a tax decrease.
However, the educational needs of the students are greater than ever, teachers in both districts said, and more help is needed to reach them, not less.
Ventnor Education Association President Gina Perkins said the school board should listen to its experts – the administration – to provide a budget that meets the needs of the students, and not allow the schools to become “a political football” being passed between the schools and municipality.
Parents said they were worried budget cuts would impact the help currently being provided to their special needs children. A teacher said that more basic skills teachers are needed to ensure elementary students are reading at grade level by the time they get to third grade. And a retiring secretary said the highly confidential job she does is too demanding to have it shared with support staff performing secretarial duties elsewhere.
Margate Education Association Sherry Scott thanked the board for listening to staff and parents and finding another way to maintain educational programming without raising taxes.
A parent suggested if the city wants to raise more revenue, it should have police patrol Atlantic Avenue like Longport does. Another said the board should not cow-tow to “crazy old men” who are approaching the end of their lives and complain incessantly about the need to reduce taxes. One of the men she was referring to once again said the district should consolidate into one school. And other parents said the city should continue to support the excellent education offered in Margate as a way to entice other young families to make Margate their home.
After sharpening their pencils, administrators in both districts were able to come up with cuts in other areas to preserve positions, but only for this year, officials said.
Baruffi and Ventnor Board President James Pacanowski said the public should expect another contentious budget process next year, because the problem of declining enrollment is not going away in the foreseeable future.
“The board did listen and was open to comments made,” Baruffi said. “There was a lot of give and take.”
“These are horrible times,” Pacanowski said. “We would like to give you and your children everything they need…but these seven people (board members) have a dual role: look out for the children…but on the flip side, we have to please the taxpayers who are stakeholders.”
Ventnor not only agreed to fill several of positions created through teacher retirements, but it also added a basic skills teacher to the roster. The administration found cuts to various line items, including health benefits and tuition to out of district schools, transportation and curriculum materials, which reduced the budget $160,973.
The $16,400,478 tax levy is $5,216 lower than last year, according to Business Administrator Terri Nowotny. The city had an $11.5 million increase in ratables, bringing the total assessed valuation of the city to $2,028,525,300. The tax rate was reduced to 80.8 cents per $100 of assessed valuation, down from 81.3 cents last year. A homeowner will pay $1,212.74 for $150,000 of assessed valuation, which is $7.30 less than last year.
A public hearing on Ventnor’s school budget will be held 6 p.m. Wednesday, March 27 at the Ventnor Educational Community Complex. The Board of School Estimates meeting has yet to be scheduled.
Margate reinstated all but one paraprofessional, but maintained some prior cuts, including eliminating one teaching position and one custodial position, and reducing three teaching positions to part-time status based on staffing needs. The administration was able to find savings in various line items, including special education, administration, transportation, capital projects and tuition to charter schools.
The $10,498,077 tax levy is $71,347 more than originally proposed, but is still $13,331 less than last year, Baruffi said. The city had a $35 million increase in ratables, bringing to total assessed valuation of the city to $3,709,501,700. The tax overall tax rate was reduced a tenth of a cent to 61.8 cents per $100 of assessed valuation. A homeowner will pay $324 on $100,000 on assessed valuation, which is $1 less than last year.
A public hearing on the budget will be held at the Board of School Estimates meeting 5 p.m. Thursday, March 28 at Historic City Hall, 1 S. Washington Ave.