Hillside school board OKs tax hike with security guards

HILLSIDE, NJ — Concern about removing funding for armed security guards pushed the local board of education on May 3 to adopt a more costly $59.9 million budget — with a 2 percent tax levy increase — over a leaner spending plan.

In an April 26 budget hearing, the proposed spending plan included six armed security guards at a cost of about $226,000, school officials said. That budget — which was ultimately adopted — resulted in an $81 tax increase on the average house assessed at $121,594.

However, a second budget presented May 3 came with a 1.2 percent tax increase and excluded the armed guards, upsetting multiple residents. The leaner $59.7 million budget would have resulted in a $51 tax increase.

“In whose wisdom around this table was it to remove the security officers?” Pinchas Shapiro, a resident for about 13 years, asked board members, pointing at each.

The school district currently does not have any armed security officers, although there are unarmed security guards in the district. Both budgets did allocate for additional security measures and two new unarmed security guards.

One new security measures is new school visitor-management system at each school that requires visitors to scan a government-issued I.D. card and prints a visitor pass in a standalone kiosk before entering the building. This new system would cost $11,000 to install at each school location, a total of $66,000, Superintendent Antoine Gayles said.

The district is also working with the local police department to obtain two school resource officers, one for the high school and another as a “floater,” Gayles said. “We’re working with the Hillside Police Department to ensure that our students are safe and we think that will be an effective partnership in addition to adding regular security guards at our schools,” said Gayles, who was later cut off by the school board attorney, who did not want him to divulge too much about school safety measures.

Residents took issue with other spending factors in the budget, including the transfer of $1.5 million from capital reserves for renovations to Woodfield Stadium, summer school costs and teachers’ salaries.

“A lot of people just can’t afford to live in Hillside anymore with the present taxes and now you’re talking about raising them even more,” Mattie J. Hollway, a resident for more than 40 years, said at the meeting. She also asked the board to “dig deeper” to reduce the budget.

The Hillside Education Association, the union representing teachers, security officers, custodians and secretaries, has been without a contract since July 2017. It last month rallied before and after school for increased wages and lower health care premiums, LocalSource previously reported.

Although a contract has not been ratified by the union or approved by the school board, the budget allocated for about $33.98 million in faculty and staff salaries. However, that allocation is about $173,000 less than what has already been tentatively discussed, the presentation showed.

Handouts presented at the May 3 meeting did not detail the line items for the proposed 1.2 percent budget being presented; residents in attendance expressed their anger about this at the meeting. However, the business administrator later printed out the changes for residents and distributed them during board members’ executive session.

However, upon returning from executive session, board members voted to approve the $59.9 million budget previously discussed April 26. One resident got up and left, mumbling in frustration.

Board members Juan Allende and Joel Chapman voted against the budget and Joi Stanley was absent.
There was no increase to the tax levy last year, Gayles said warned of a fiscal cliff scenario that could result in a large budget gap in the future.
“In a very short time, the school district’s expenses will far outweigh its revenue, and we’re projecting in just a short couple of years the district will face a $4.4 million budget gap,” Gayles said. “That’s catastrophic to teachers, to programs.”