Voters in Morristown and Morris Township approved the $101 million Morris School District school budget by better than a 2-1 margin on Wednesday.
“I can start breathing again,” said District Superintendent Thomas Ficarra after the last results were projected onto a screen at the school board office.
Actually, there never was much suspense. Nobody here can remember the last time a school budget was defeated.
The superintendent credited hard work by his staff and faculty and especially, low debt service, for the district’s ongoing success at the polls.
At about 15 meetings with school parent associations and the town and township governments this spring, he hammered home the same message to residents:
“You’re paying taxes to pay for children’s programs and not for bankers’ interest,” he reiterated Wednesday night.
The total vote was 1,952 for the budget, and 909 against.
In Morristown, it was 477 to 238. In Morris Township, it was 1,475 to 671. The closest margin appeared to be at the Alfred Vail School, where the tally was 101 to 65.
Board members Lisa Pollak, Marie Fornaro and Teresa Murphy ran unopposed.
The amount to be raised by taxes is $80,807,655. That represents an increase of $1.3 million from last year, a 1.69 percent rise that falls below the state cap of 2 percent.
For the owner of a home in Morristown assessed at the town average of $354,000, school taxes will go up by $158, to about $4,500 for the year
In Morris Township, someone with a home assessed at the township average of $390,000 would see a $189 hike, to about $5,460 per year in school taxes, according to Chris Kelly, business administrator for the district.
Painful cuts were made last year: 54 district jobs were scheduled for elimination, along with some after-school and summer school programs.
No layoffs are planned this time for the 800-person staff, which serves just under 5,000 pupils. School hours and class sizes won’t be tinkered with, and extracurricular and athletic programs remain intact.
District employees now must contribute 1.5 percent of their salaries toward health insurance, which shaved up to $1 million from the spending plan, the administrator said earlier this year.
And only about one percent of the budget is for debt service, reflecting a near-fanatical determination to avoid borrowing. The superintendent said the district stays on top of building maintenance, to avoid the need for referendums for major renovations.
“We don’t let buildings go,” he said. “We have an extremely low debt ratio. That’s why we’re able to maintain programs.”