Chatham School Board Discusses Budget Challenges and Potential Harding High School Additions

In a recent meeting, the Chatham School Board tackled the issues of budgetary constraints and the intriguing proposition of accepting high school students from Harding School District. The board grappled with financial challenges, including the need to increase the tax levy by 2.91%, as they deliberated on the preliminary budget for the school district. In parallel, the board explored the potential long-term partnership with Harding School District, which could see Chatham High School receiving tuition students from Harding, a move that could introduce new revenue streams but also raise questions about educational quality and resource allocation.

The preliminary budget was a focal point, with the finance committee reporting on the difficulties in its formulation. The committee noted an increase in student needs for out-of-district placements and the lack of a tuition cap at private schools for students with disabilities as significant cost drivers. The state’s Chapter 44 law, which affects health insurance costs for school district employees, was also identified as a contributor to the budgetary strain. To address these challenges, the board discussed a 2% increase on the tax levy, along with a health benefits adjustment and the use of some banked cap. The superintendent provided an overview of the CIFRA funding formula, with the district receiving an additional $376,000 in state funding, and the importance of categorical aid in the budget was underscored.

The tax levy increase, comprising approximately 90% of the budget’s revenue, drew attention due to the tax impact on Chatham Borough and Township residents. The district’s declining enrollment was acknowledged, which affects the distribution of the total budget across fewer students, yet the district maintains spending below the state median and average for comparable districts. The board voiced concerns about the extraordinary special education increase of 25% and the 15% rise in health insurance costs, driven partly by expensive prescription drugs. The potential need for future teacher reductions due to financial constraints was raised as a significant worry.

During the meeting, the topic of full-day kindergarten fees was broached by a parent who expressed concern over the $5,000 charge, deeming it a financial burden for families seeking free public education. The board recognized the budgetary limitations and the aspiration to eventually provide free full-day kindergarten. Additionally, the need to fully fund special education costs was suggested, with the idea of lobbying Congress for support.

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Another issue was the proposal from Harding School District regarding the acceptance of their high school students at Chatham High School. The potential revenue benefits and implications for educational quality were deliberated, along with the impact on student enrollment and the existing contract with Harding’s current receiving high school.

The board also pondered the merits of changing the board election from November to April, considering the potential for faster implementation of approved measures and the associated costs and operational impacts for the municipality.

The meeting covered additional action items, including personnel matters, financing, facilities, and curriculum changes, with motions made and unanimously approved on various agenda items.

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Lastly, the board touched on the plans for security vestibules and the upcoming bids for the related work.

Note: This meeting summary was generated by AI, which can occasionally misspell names, misattribute actions, and state inaccuracies. This summary is intended to be a starting point and you should review the meeting record linked above before acting on anything you read. If we got something wrong, let us know. We’re working every day to improve our process in pursuit of universal local government transparency.

Superintendent:
Michael LaSusa
School Board Officials:
Ann Ciccarelli, Susan Ross, Chris Delsandro, Jill Critchley Weber, Michael Ryan, Lata Kenney, Sally Allen, Yinglu Zhang, Dr. Emily Sortino (District Anti-Bullying Coordinator)

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