The Orange Board of Education will present to the town a $19,280,735 budget proposal on April 27. The spending plan carries a 2.4% increase over the current year’s plan.
The board had approved and presented to the Board of Finance an operating budget with a 4.4% increase. After what Interim Superintendent Mike Nast referred to as an ‘amicable discussion’ between the finance team and the board of education, an agreement was reached to remove two contingency teacher positions from the budget with the understanding that if enrollment increases enough to warrant the hiring of one or two more teachers, the Board of Finance will then allocate funds.
“When developing a budget, we do what is best for kids, and we also keep senior citizens in mind. We work collaboratively to present a budget that is best for all residents,” Nast said. Contractual obligations are the driving force behind much of the increase, Board of Education Business Manager Mary-Jo Sierakowski said.
The addition of two teachers was intended to reduce class sizes that could be sneaking up to 23 children as enrollment grows, following a trend of the past couple of years when all of Orange Schools have seen increasing enrollment. This school year, Peck Place had seven new enrollments, Turkey Hill had 13 and Race Brook has had 27.
There was strong appeal to the Board of Finance to allow the funds to keep class sizes from reaching as high as 22-23 students at the presentation. The underlying message to the board was the reminder that Orange is known for its quality education and that should be preserved. “We need to raise the bridge or lower the water – here we need to do both,” Town Finance Director Al Chiarenzelli said, referring to the budget as a whole.
Jim Leahy, vice-chairman of the Board of Finance reiterated Chiarenzelli’s point. “We have to find a way to do more with less. Our job is a balancing act. Please understand that we are partners. As we ask questions, please keep that in mind,” he said to Nast and Sierakowski.
Debbie Davis, an Orange resident who was a teacher for 35 years, said, “Orange is most well-known for our outstanding schools. Education is Orange’s best product. Please don’t short-change our children.”
Her daughter, Mara Saccente is a member of the Board of Education. She said she fully supports the budget and kept in mind the call to do more with less, “The cost of educating each student is going up and this is a fiscally responsible plan. Educating in the 21st century costs more. Small class sizes are key to our plan of success.”
Board members Christian Young, Bobby Ricciardi, Kim Browe and Susan Riccio also spoke in support of the budget and keeping class sizes small.
Nast said he simply wants to be prepared for next year. “Right now, we’re not well-prepared for additional students that show up at our door and we haven’t planned for.” This year, 67 additional students enrolled in Orange Schools. “We are working with the Board of Realtors to come up with a way to make a better projection,” Nast said. He said that he has confidence in the Board of Finance that if additional teachers are needed in the fall, the funds will be available. “I was impressed with the collaboration between the Board of Education and the finance team during this process,” said Nast, who admits to seeing his fair share of budget presentations over his years as superintendent.
By Melissa Nicefaro – Orange Town News Correspondent