Did board member Irene Sobolov in last week’s letters really call the votes by three school board members “purely symbolic actions”? Now, apparently, voting against a budget that raises our school taxes 4 percent is labeled political grandstanding.
Let the record show that Frances Rhodes-Kearns, Peter Biancamano and Carmelo Garcia stuck up for the taxpayers. Board members Leon Gold, Ruth McAllister, Tom Kleupfel, Jean Marie Mitchell and Rose Markle voted along with Irene Sobolov to raise our taxes. This district spends $23,716 for every student. That’s second only to Asbury Park among New Jersey’s 220 K-12 districts.
The idea that this budget season was an open book is laughable. Moving the election to November and ending the public vote means no more weeks of debate after the board submits the budget. The only public discussion of the final budget was originally scheduled for March 26. Then, for no apparent reason, it was moved from the traditional Tuesday for school board meetings, to Wednesday. Thanks to Amanda Palasciano’s reporting, we learned it was shifted so that Superintendent Mark Toback could go to a two-day job interview in Manchester, N.H. Per-pupil spending there is $10,283.77, according to a recent New York Times story.
The original budget resolution didn’t mention a 4 percent tax hike, nor did the glossy material sent home in the students’ backpacks. After the March 27 meeting, there was no information readily available on how the board voted. As I write this nearly two weeks later, there’s still no update on the website and the meeting isn’t running on channel 77. Irene Sobolov’s letter didn’t include the amount of the increase either. I guess we’ll have to wait for our tax bills to arrive.
Tax-hike supporters point to a huge deficit in the lunch program, and most of the blame is put on parents who don’t pay their bills. Nevertheless, if you look at the state-mandated, independent audits going back several years (on the district website), you’ll see that the auditors cited faulty internal controls, not deadbeat parents. In 2010-11, $51,047 was forfeited because the staff didn’t submit forms for reimbursement from the government. For the year 2009-10, they point out that “numerous deposits were not made in a timely manner.” They also point to missing bank forms and deposit slips, as well as figures from the cafeterias that didn’t agree with amounts deposited.
Another factor, they claim, is sequestration. They guesstimate that it will cost us $450,000 in federal funds - though nothing is official - while forgetting to mention the extra $1.5 million from the state. Another boogie man is the addition of grade five at Hola Charter School, which they say means taxes must go up $553,000. Yet somehow we managed not to raise taxes when Hola was created and grew to grades K-4.
Don’t be fooled. We spend $10,000 more than the state average on each student in the district. When politicians start telling you they have to raise taxes “for the kids,” hang onto your wallet.
Former Board Member