S-W school budget in county's hands

| 22 Feb 2012 | 08:11

    Impasse could send spending plan for review at next level WANTAGE n The Sussex-Wantage Regional School District’s Board of Education wasn’t able to wrap up all of its business at its March 19 meeting. At the meeting, which was held at The Wantage School, the board failed to muster the five votes necessary to pass a proposed $23 million school budget for the 2009/2010 school year. Because the K-8 school district missed its state-mandated deadline of delivering an approved budget by March 18, residents may have their school tax rate determined by Sussex County Superintendent of Schools Frank Dragotta, according to board members and county officials. That possibility didn’t sit well with many of the 100 or so residents who attended the meeting. “It’s a real shame” that the final budget and tax rate will be decided outside the school district, said one resident who addressed the board. “Thank you. Thank you all very much for that,” she replied sarcastically. Tempers flared during the budget discussion, particularly between board members. Some board members, such as Kathryn Compa, defended the proposed budget, saying it was “wonderful” to devise a financial plan that would have risen just $1,355 over the previous year. “This is a good budget,” said Compa. But other board members who voted against the measure disagreed. “There was no budget preparation...there have not been any efforts by the board to suggest executive (closed) sessions to discuss potential cuts that would be legal,” said board member Ann Smulewicz. “The budget should be solid when it goes to the County Superintendent, not a work in progress,” she added. The particulars The proposed budget calls for the elimination of 4.5 full-time equivalent teacher positions, representing $213,000 in savings, said S-W Regional Superintendent Edward Izbicki. Specific teachers and subject areas have not yet been identified, said the district’s business administrator Christina Riker, in a conversation after the meeting. Riker also said that she planned to contact Sussex County School Business Administrator Neil K. Cramer to determine what steps would need to be taken next. When contacted by The Advertiser-News by telephone the day after the school budget vote, Cramer said the situation faced by the S-W school district is unique. “It virtually never happens” that a school budget isn’t resolved at some point by a district’s board of education, said Cramer. Although Cramer said he wasn’t sure what would happen next, he did say that having the school district’s budget decided by Dragotta “is certainly a possibility.” Dragotta has the authority to set the tax levy for the school district and isn’t required to gain the state’s approval for his actions, said Cramer. According to Riker, if the proposed budget were to remain intact, the average Sussex Borough homeowner with an assessed property value of $115,700 would be facing a school tax of $1,937. That represents an increase of $15.97 from last year, said Riker. In Wantage Township, where the average property is assessed at $322,500, the school tax would be $2,218, or a $30 reduction from the 2008/2009 tax rate, Riker said. The vote Board members Marina Krynicky, Robert Heiden, Kathryn Compa and Tom Card voted in favor of the proposed budget. Ann Smulewicz, Art Jacobs and Diane Snure voted against it. Board member Raymond Delbury is serving a six-month suspension for state ethics violations and is ineligible to vote on the budget or any other board-related matters. Another board member, Robert Hollowach, resigned his position on March 18, citing work-related conflicts.