School districts statewide are closing in on a deadline to decide whether to move their school board member elections to November and eliminate a vote on their annual budget as long as they stay within a state-mandated 2 percent tax levy cap.
The decided Thursday night to follow suit with many local school districts, , and move forward with the November move.
The board had made several attempts to gain public input on the topic, including sending out an email Thursday to district parents asking for comments to be emailed to the board. Only one member of the public spoke about the elimination of the budget vote at the meeting and Board President Margaret Zybrick said the board received only eight emails.
The recommendation was approved by a 5-2 vote with Board Members Marcy Pryor and Marianne DeAlessi voting against the measure. Before voting, Pryor said she had concerns about the public losing the ability to vote on the budget. She also said that while she feels the current board has been pro-education, voting to keep and restore educational programs, that new members may be more in favor of eliminating programs and that the public would no longer be able to vote on what the board proposes for the next four years (school districts are locked in to four years of not having budget elections if they choose to eliminate them now).
But Board Member Katie Stylianou said "we're always going to be a board of education" and that she felt that anyone who expressed interest in serving on the board would likely be doing so to enhance educational opportunities in the district. Superintendent James Opiekun said that if this was not the case, the public would still have the opportunity to vote out the members they did not feel were doing an adequate job when their terms expire during the November election.
"The ultimate power of the voter is to decide who is on the board of education," he said.
Opiekun said that $378 million is being awarded to school districts that have Title I students, which includes students whose families live below the poverty line. Since Kinnelon does not have any Title I students, he said that Kinnelon would not be receiving that funding and that the state continues to expect most school districts to do more with less.
"Two percent [increase] a year over the next couple of years means that there's going to be a slow erosion of programs and staff in districts that do not get state aid," he said.
Even with the elimination of a budget vote, school districts can apply to the county superintendent for a cap waiver which, if approved, would allow the district to ask voters by referendum in the November election if they would approve the district exceeding the cap.
Resident Jennifer Petruccelli said she opposes the move of the election to November and said that she feels that with costs of health insurance, gasoline and other necessities rising, she thinks the district will have a hard time staying in the cap and will offend voters by taking away their right to vote on the budget.
"I don't see how youre going to stay under that 2 percent cap without making drastic cuts," she said.
Board Vice President Keith Dama noted that the last time the Kinnelon school district budget was defeated, the board proposed a 1.4 percent increase. Dama said that by not eliminating the budget vote, the district is at risk that the budget will be rejected and cut further every year. Dama voted in favor of the budget vote elimination.
"It's really a board decision based on what we know about maintaining the quality of education in our district," he said.