Morris Plains voters easily approved a school budget Wednesday that will raise the taxes on an average home about $188, and that school officials say keeps vital programs in tact.
The vote of 381-219 secures the approval of the 15,072,510 budget, which results in a tax rate of $.9699 per $100 of assessed valuation for calendar year 2011, up from .927 in 2010. For a home assessed at the municipal average of $439,483, that means a yearly bill of about $2,360 (not counting municipal and county taxes, which are set separately).
"We're very thankful, obviously, to the residents," Superintendent of Schools Dennis Mack said Wednesday night. "This vote will allow us to continue to move forward with the many goals we have planned for the students."
Mack has stated previously that, as long as the school budget was passed this year, no positions would be cut in the school district, all educational programs would be maintained, athletics would be untouched, courtesy busing prices would stay the same and new technology may be purchased. Mack said Wednesday that had the budget failed, technology initiatives might have been first on the chopping block.
"Some things have gone our way," Mack said earlier this year. He said that an overpayment to the Morris School District, where Morris Plains students attend grades 9-12, was discovered, resulting in a $180,000 credit. Also, he said, the Educational Services Commission of Morris County, which provides a variety of shared services for local school districts, has agreed to keep the cost of busing and child study team services the same this year. The retirement of several long time teachers, paid at the high end of the salary spectrum, allowed the district to bring in lower-paid replacements.
And while Morris Plains, along with other districts throughout New Jersey, lost a significant amount of state aid in 2010, the governor has slightly increased aid for Morris Plains in this year's state budget.
"The administration and the board have done a terrific job of submitting a budget that meets the dual objectives of continuing to provide quality education for our kids (including two of mine!) while observing fiscal responsibility," board member Scott Bober, who won re-election Wednesday, said in an e-mail to Patch.
Fellow incumbent Lee Connor, also re-elected, said the school system has done a tremendous job with a conservative budget approach. She pointed to rankings on schooldigger.com that list Morris Plains as sixth in Morris County and 52nd in the state—and that note the school's fifth-grade math standardized test scores place first in the state.
"Despite these first-rate results, our tax rate compares favorably to those of other area districts," she said Wednesday. "It is just below $.97 on $100. Other area districts charge anywhere from $1.01 to more than $2 per $100. The combination of fiscal prudence and great academic results make voting for the school budget a win-win proposition for property owners in town as well as for all those who care about education—and this community is very supportive of the schools."
was originally appointed to fill the seat of Mary Beth Stolworthy after her resignation last year; he successfully ran Wednesday for a full three-year term. who just finished a 3-year term on the board, only ran this year to fill the remainder of Stolworthy's term. Newcomer and write-in candidate Douglas McCabe will join the board. They, like the incumbents, were unopposed in the race. They replace Dennis Reilly, this year’s board president, and Christopher Gardner,
About the Candidates
McCabe, 46, has lived in Morris County for more than a dozen years. He has one daughter, who went through the school system, and another two still in it. He graduated from Rutgers University and works for Chartis Insurance as vice president of reinsurance accounting. McCabe coached his children's teams in various sports. He says he wants to be "an active participant in keeping the schools up to the standard we all expect and our children deserve."
"I believe delivering what our children need in terms of resources (i.e. technology) in the classroom to help them achieve at the next level, balanced against the tough economic headwinds is the biggest issue," McCabe has told Patch. "I believe we need to look at all opportunities to improve efficiencies which will drive down costs as well as ensuring we are optimizing our state and federal funding opportunities. The answer can not always be increase taxes."
It was not clear Wednesday how many votes McCabe received, but he did secure a seat, school district Business Administrator Alice Bressett said.
Rawding, 46, has also lived in the district for about 12 years. She has one child currently at Mountain Way School, two children currently at Borough School, and four children who graduated eighth grade from Borough School. She has a B.A. in elementary education and an M.A. in education—human services leadership from the College of St. Elizabeth. She is currently a doctoral candidate in the Arts and Letters program at Drew University, and a teacher in the Madison School District.
Rawding has previously served on both the Morristown and Morris Plains Republican Committees. She has coached for the Morris Plains Little League for the past 11 years. She has also coached soccer for the Morris United Soccer Club and the Morris Plains Recreation soccer league. She says she is passionate about education, "and I want to work collaboratively to ensure that the students of Morris Plains continue to receive an excellent education in our changing economic climate."
"I bring can bring to the board my passion and commitment to high quality education, 19 years of experience in education, and a willingness to work together to achieve the common goal of maintaining a fiscally sound and successful school district," she told Patch. She said she'd focus on ensuring a quality education while minimizing the financial impact on residents.
Rawding received 439 votes Wednesday, according to unofficial results.
Bober, 44, has lived in Morris Plains for 15 years. He's served on the school board's policy and personnel committees, and says he anticipates assisting the board in negotiations for contract renewals. I expect to assist the Board in negotiations for our contract renewal. He's also been part of a team working with the Morris School District, as its contract for sending high school students to Morristown High School expires this year. . In 1009, he served as an ad-hoc committee member with the school board, looking at options for shared services.
Bober has two children in the district. He holds a bachelor's degree in chemical engineering from The University of Pennsylvania and an MBA from Columbia Business School. He is a global business leader for Honeywell International in Morris Township. He has been a coach for both recreational soccer and little league.
He said he ran for the board to ensure his kids get a top-notch education, and that his budgetary and negotiating skills benefit the school system.
"I feel very good about our budget and the educational programs we are focused on delivering this year and next. But we must begin the tough work of developing a long-range strategic plan," he told Patch Wednesday. "Public education will continue to face tough economic times. For Morris Plains to continue to deliver an outstanding education for our children, we will need to address some structural issues."
Bober received 402 votes Wednesday, according to unofficial results.
Connor has lived in Morris Plains for 15 years, and has been on the board since 2005. She's served as its president and vice president, chaired and been a member of several of its committees and been a liaison to the Morris School District. She's also currently a Morris County School Boards Association VP for legislation. She has two children who graduated from the borough school in 2006.
Connor is a writer and editor for national and regional publications. She serves on the Education Foundation of Morris Plains public relations committee, and previously has been a Cub Scouts Pack leader, Girl Scout leader, and Vacation Bible School leader.
She called the Morris Plains School District "a gem o a district," pointing to the contributions of staff, administration and the board.
" I want to continue to lend my board experience and my best efforts to supporting excellence in education along with fiscal responsibility," she said previously. "If elected, one of my main areas of focus will be on long-range planning for the district, with the involvement of representatives from all stakeholders in the community. The schools are in many ways the heart of the community, and their success affects every household. I believe it's the board's job to make every effort to communicate the financial and educational issues our schools face, and solicit public input and participation."
Wednesday, she looked ahead to the coming year and beyond: "In terms of challenges, the district faces the same situation as all other public school districts: Revenue sources are declining, tax increases are capped at 2 percent and numerous costs we can't control are rising. These include double-digit increases in insurance of all kinds; out-of-district tuitions; fuel; utilities and more. Despite these challenges, I feel exhilarated by the way our community has risen to the challenge of doing more with less. That includes our fine administration, our staff, our parents, the borough council and the countless volunteers who donate their time and talents to our schools. I believe the district will continue to thrive because of the smart and resourceful nature of our community. There's no avenue we won't explore in an attempt to keep our educational standards high while also keeping taxpayers in mind."
Connor received 397 votes Wednesday, according to unofficial results.
The school board will hold its reorganization meeting on May 10, at which time it will pick a new president.