Morris District School Board adopts $104M budget for 2014-15; taxes up, programs steady

Homeowners in Morristown and Morris Township will pay a bit more in school taxes under a $103.6 million 2014-15 budget approved Monday by the Morris School District board of education.

School officials said they held the overall tax increase to 1 percent, while maintaining all athletic and extracurricular programs, keeping a lid on debt and offering computers to more students.

Someone in Morristown with a home assessed at the average value of $354,000 will pay an additional $91 in taxes a year.

Homeowners in neighboring Morris Township, where the average residence is assessed at $390,000, will pay an extra $164.

Morris District Board President Leonard Posey, left, and Superintendent Tom Ficarra, after the board adopted the 2014-15 budget. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

Morris District Board President Leonard Posey, left, and Superintendent Tom Ficarra, after the board adopted the 2014-15 budget. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

The tax levy of $83.9 million amounts to a one-percent increase, according to school officials.  Under state law, school budgets that stay under a 2 percent cap no longer are subject to voter approval.

The board’s vote was unanimous.

“We’re very pleased that we were able to not raise our debt, and still meet the needs” of students, District Superintendent Thomas Ficarra
said at a virtually empty public meeting.

He said he anticipates the district will be debt-free in four years. Presently, less than one penny of every tax dollar raised goes toward repaying debt, the superintendent said.

The cost to educate a student in the district is $16,215, according to budget documents from the board. That’s down a few dollars from the last budget, but up from $14,750 in 2011-12.

One major project that’s not reflected in the new spending plan is a classroom expansion at Morristown High School. That project is likely to start next year, in the summer, with completion expected by 2018-19, the superintendent said.

Enrollment is rising as families move into the district, he explained. Two more teachers are being hired at the high school because of that rise, he said.The district serves approximately 5,000 pupils from Morristown, Morris Township and Morris Plains (high school only).

Starting this fall, the superintendent said, every student from grades 7 through 12 will get a Chromebook laptop. At present, only grades 7 through 9 are so equipped.

Money for that project comes from tuition paid by families outside the district who choose to send their children here, Dr. Ficarra said.

Board President Leonard Posey said he was pleased with the 2014-15 budget.

“This is a very fiscally responsible board, and a great administration and staff who try to watch out for the pocketbooks of the people who live here,” Leonard said. “Morris County is very expensive. But our district is one of the best in the state at taking care of our investment.”

The board president also thanked board members and the public for their outpouring of support for his daughter, who is “recovering slowly” in the hospital after a car accident in Morris Township this month.

 



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