Hillside school board introduces budget with no tax increase

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Residents of Hillside would see no tax increase under a proposed $61.3 million budget introduced at a March 14 special meeting of the school board.

HILLSIDE, NJ — The preliminary $61.3 million budget for the 2019-20 school year carries no property tax increase. The budget was unveiled by the Board of Education at a special meeting March 14.

The board, which voted unanimously to introduce the budget, will hold a public hearing on it at the Saybrook Annex on Woodruff Avenue at 6:30 p.m. on May 2. Before that meeting, a breakdown of the budget will be included in the legal advertisement in the LocalSource, interim board secretary and business administrator David Eichenholtz said at the meeting.

The meeting to introduce the budget lasted less than 20 minutes, including a 10-minute period when the board went into executive session. After the board returned to public session, the budget was introduced and the meeting was completed in little more than three minutes.

Board President Juan Allende said the budget does not call for the elimination of any positions. He said the special meeting was held because the preliminary budget was due at the county superintendent’s office by March 18.
“We’re just trying to make sure nothing got taken out or taken away and also help out the taxpayers,” Allende said. “It is tough because you have to look over the whole budget with them and make changes. You do cut stuff but you cut stuff from different places so it doesn’t affect one thing over everything.”

Board Vice President Kimberly Cook said the preliminary budget was created by board members spending “two days behind locked doors” and joked that she was going to need “a box of dye for grey hairs.”
“No cuts,” Cook said. “No cuts of programs or anything. This is taking what we have and using it the appropriate way. We’re not taking any kids’ programs away or anything.

She added that the district was “top heavy on supplies. We’re just used to buying an overabundance when you don’t need to. Everybody is going green, so you don’t need as much paper. We’re making simple adjustments that we hadn’t in the past.”

The only comment during the public portion of the meeting came from Anthony Salters, chairman of the Hillside Democratic Committee.

“First, I want to praise and thank the board,” Salters said. “I know I come up here, and some of you, I give you a hard time when you deserve it, but I also want to tell you when you deserve praise. For this to be a zero-percent property tax increase levy with the budget that we have with six schools, I just want to commend you that there was obviously some analyzation of the budget and hopefully more of this money is going toward the classroom to educate our children.”

Absent was some of the controversy marking recent board meetings.
The Jan. 3 reorganization meeting turned from a simple swearing-in ceremony to a meeting punctuated by bickering as newly elected board members verbally introduced previously unannounced motions regarding appointments to the agenda. After new board members Laquana Best, Pinchas Shapiro, Cook and incumbents Joel Chapman and Hawaiian Thompson-Epps took their oaths of office at the gathering, tensions spiked when Chapman moved to appoint Allan Roth, of Roth D’Aquanni LLC, as the new board attorney, LocalSource previously reported. The item was not on the meeting’s agenda.

There also was tension when Thompson-Epps, who formerly served as president but lost her bid for re-election in November, took over the seat won by Dennis Kobitz. Kobitz was the third-highest vote getter in November’s election behind Cook and Chapman but was disqualified from his three-year term after a background check revealed an unspecified criminal offense. County Superintendent Daryl Palmieri subsequently selected Thompson-Epps to fill his seat. Additionally, at the Jan. 24 regular meeting, school board members voted 6-2 to suspend Superintendent Antoine Gayles with pay. A contract extending Gayles’ employment by three years with salary increases was passed by the previous board during its lame-duck session, and is being contested by the current board.

“He’ still suspended,” Allende said after the March 14 meeting. “Unfortunately, that’s all I can tell you because it is a personnel matter. I can’t say any more. The status is still the same.”

Allende said it wasn’t clear if Gayles’ status will be addressed in the March 21 meeting.