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Sunday, June 16, 2024

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Dennis School Board to Ask Voters for $2.2M to Add to Budget

Christopher South
Dennis Township residents listen to a presentation on the 2024-2025 school year budget at the May 30 Board of Education meeting. The residents questioned pay raises and a new hire, while teachers and aides are cut.

By Christopher South

SOUTH DENNIS – The Board of Education voted to ask township residents to pass a referendum measure for $2.2 million to help fund the 2024-2025 school year budget after hearing complaints about expenditures for the administration.

The action was taken at the May 30 board meeting, which was attended by a large number of parents and teachers interested in hearing how the district was going to deal with the final year of state aid cuts.

Members of the audience complained that the administration was cutting or reducing staff hours, including moving the child study team to part time, while proposing to hire a new supervisor at $98,000 and boosting Business Administrator Teri Weeks’ salary to $152,935. Weeks’ base salary in the 2023-2024 school year budget was $145,000 plus allowances.

One member of the public berated the board for cutting teachers and aides while giving raises to the administration, all on the backs of taxpayers. Another individual referred to the cuts to the child study team, saying those who were working reduced hours were “told to do our best.”

“The last people who should be cut are those who deal with mental health,” said staff member Jennifer Hunter, who said she would be expected to fill in for team members when none are scheduled.

“You tell the aides they are being cut to half time, when you make $90,000 or more, and half of this room makes $30,000 to $40,000 (per year),” she said.

Another member of the public asked the board and the administration whether they were part of the solution or part of the problem.

The board responded by saying the school district lost 75% of its state aid, about $4.3 million since 2018, while it was prohibited from raising its budget more than 2% each year. The state recently agreed to give back some of the money it had taken away, but the district still lost 70% of its aid.

Board member Joe Berg was visibly upset at the suggestion that the board was not taking its role seriously, and about that time the meeting started to become somewhat boisterous. Berg said that, in his role as the governmental liaison for the board, he had been literally begging legislators to help the district.

Members of the audience claimed Weeks was being disrespectful for not looking up at the audience and for taking a raise at this time. One resident said, “If you have to take a pay cut to balance the budget, do it.”

Board President Nichol Hoff told the audience Weeks was entitled to a raise under her current contract. Weeks, for her part, did address the audience at one point, pointing out the administration’s efforts to find grants to fund education beyond what is thorough and efficient.

Hoff said the board has been dealing with the state aid cuts for more than seven years, beginning in 2018. She said the district has been looking at expanding shared services as a way of reducing costs, with minimal results. Sending some students to the Middle Township School District, as some have suggested, would result in more spending, she said.

The board president also said contracts were scrutinized. “When contracts come up we look at what we can do and what makes sense,” she said.

The Cape May County Office of Education requires the district to submit a balanced budget. With all the changes the district has made to the 2024-2025 budget, the county has said it is not enough, and recommended reducing instructional aides to part time. Hoff said the district would have to see what happens with the referendum measure in September.

In the meantime, the district has to present a board-approved budget to the county executive superintendent by July 5, according to guidelines put out by the state Department of Education on May 14. The district must hold a public hearing on its revised budget no later than July 19 and adopt it no later than July 22.

The proposed 2024-2025 budget is $18,461,422, of which $12,299,604 is to be raised by taxes. Excess fund balance of $721,803 and additional fund balance of $625,934 will be applied to the budget.

Dennis voters rejected a ballot question that would have provided another $1.3 million in school funding from taxpayers that was on the November 2023 General Election ballot.

Contact the reporter, Christopher South, at csouth@cmcherald.com or 609-886-8600, ext. 128.

Reporter

Christopher South is a reporter for the Cape May County Herald.

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