The Orange Board of Education presented to the town’s finance commission a $20 million spending plan that is 1.09% higher than this current year’s budget. The town has asked each school board to keep any increase in spending to a minimum. At press time, the town was in the midst of finalizing its budget, which includes both Orange and Amity schools.
A decrease in state funding to a variety of funds is resulting in a $4.2 million gap. “Obviously, the biggest thing that will be closing the gap will be raising taxes. But first we start reducing expenditures at every point before you start paying more,” Jim Leahy, vice chairman of the finance commission said. Amity Schools’ proposed budget carries a 1.26% increase.
Superintendent of Orange Schools Vince Scarpetti said that when he wrote the budget, he kept teachers in mind as well as students, “I might have a little bit of a bias with our elementary teachers. I believe they have more of a challenge than other teachers do because they have to focus on a multitude of subjects and it’s very important that we always empower them and support their learning.”
This year’s budget drivers include salaries and benefits, textbooks and supplies and transportation. An additional $646,512 in spending was offset by decreases totaling $327,927 found in curriculum, special education and technology. “In next year’s budget, we would like to include devices for grades one and two, two-to-one as we did one-to-one for the older grades. We would also like to supply kindergarten with newer devices. We have a strong belief that students who have access to a laptop will increase their learning,” he said. “We also want to continue to enforce safe schools. I’m sure you’re aware of the investment that has been made and we want to continue to offer the safest schools to our students and staff.
“The budget does not account for any growth in school population as the Board of Finance asked us to not use projections, only use what we have in the classroom today,” Scarpetti said, admitting that presents a bit of concern since there is always increase in enrollment.
Scarpetti’s initial plan carried a 2.45% increase and after some work, presented the board with a 1.99% increase and after workshops with the board, it finalized at 1.09%. The budget plans for some reorganization in special education. “I wanted to point out to the board the addition of a board certified behavioral analyst as a new position. Typically we hire two part-time BCBAs and that could cost the district over $100,000 and that’s only for two and one-half days of service. What we did in order to save money and also to get a better benefit for our students, we are going to post the position at $75,000 in order to save money, but also to have someone here five days a week and 10 days over the summer,” Scarpetti said.
At the conclusion of the presentation after the board had gone through the budget line by line, Leahy asked, “We now have 68 classrooms and 1097 students. Just four years ago, we had 100 more students and one less classroom?”
“I’d have to look and see what was happening at that time. I think that’s about the value that the community puts on class size. That’s one element,” Scarpetti said.
“When I bought my house in Orange in 1983, I came for the school system. In 2005, the average classroom had 19.5 students. I guess what I’d like to offer is that historically it’s as much about the community and environment that is in Orange than it is the one metric that talks about the number of students.”
The town budget presentation and public hearing is scheduled for April 27 at High Plains Community Center.
By Melissa Nicefaro – Orange Town News Correspondent