The Morris School District board on Monday approved a $138.2 million budget for 2022-23 that will raise school taxes by about $170 for the average Morris Township homeowner.
And teachers are getting a new contract that will pay them average increases of 3.4 percent over each of the next four years.
Both measures were approved unanimously with little discussion during an hour-long meeting at Morristown High School.
Board members also announced community information sessions about playground remediation plans for the Alexander Hamilton School (May 5at 7 pm) and athletic field lights at the high school (May 26at 7 pm).
The president of TEAM, the 750-member teachers union (the acronym stands for The Education Association of Morris), was pleased with a contract she said contains the largest teacher raises in Morris County.
“We worked amicably and collaboratively so we could have something in place by the new school year, so the focus could be on (hiring) a new superintendent, said Deirdre Falk.
The school board aims to start searching this summer for a permanent successor to Supt. Mackey Pendergrastwho retired last November and now is an assistant commissioner in the state education department.
Ninety percent of Falk’s members voted for ratification of the pact last week, she said. Negotiations only took about five months, she said.
Things were rockier in the summer of 2020, before COVID-19 vaccines were available, when the union strongly opposed reopening in-person classes that fall. District officials countered that the state required reopening, and hybrid schedules were hashed out.
The new contract recognizes “the quality of the professional staff” that enabled schools to open their doors “when everyone else was going sideways” during COVID, said board member Nancy Bangiolahead of the board’s negotiating committee.
By year two, the accord will boost starting pay to over $60,000, helping the district “continue to attract the very best teachers…The teaching staff that we have is our strength,” asserted Bangiola, praising negotiators on both sides.
Susan Pedalinoa school librarian and member of the NJEA, the statewide teachers’ union, was the lone district board member to abstain on the contract vote.
The fiscal impact of these increases will be blunted by retirements at the top end of the pay scale, and by the same careful planning that produced the new budget, Bangiola said.
That budget stays under the state-imposed 2 percent cap, while maintaining the district’s debt-free status, said district Business Administrator Anthony LoFranco.
“I think it’s fantastic. To come below 2 percent is almost unheard of in the state of New Jersey. And we’re able to fund all the programs that address the needs of our students,” said board Vice President Linda Murphy, the finance chair. “I’m totally proud of all my fellow board members and the central office staff.”
Taxes for the regional district are apportioned via a complex “equalization” formula. The “average” Morris Township homeowner (home assessed at $560,000) will pay about $14 more per month — an extra $170 annually — in school taxes.
An average Morristown homeowner (home assessed at $357,595) will see an annual increase of just under $18. That’s about $1.50 more per month. Morris Plains pays tuition for borough students to attend Morristown High.
Contract talks now shift to unions representing secretarial staff, school principals and administrators, Bangiola said.
IN OTHER BUSINESS
The information session on May 5 will discuss options for dealing with a Revolutionary War-era dump identified beneath the Alexander Hamilton playground, Murphy said. Options include excavating and filling in the dump, and paving over it for more parking, she said.
Plans for a new turf field, scoreboard and lights at the high school will be the topic for May 26.
A committee of parents and staff also has begun planning for a fall celebration of the district’s 50th anniversary, said board member Meredith Davidson. The pandemic prevented festivities last year.
The district also is hunting for a new place to park many of its school buses. The lease on its Ford Avenue parking area is about to jump by 300 percent, Murphy said.