Morris School District board okays $138M budget, teacher contract; announces info sessions

Dierdre Falk, left, president of TEAM, and Nancy Bangiola, head of the negotiating team for the Morris School District board, April 25, 2022. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
5

 

The Morris School District board on Monday approved a $138.2 million budget for 2022-23 that will raise school taxes by about $170 for the average Morris Township homeowner.

And teachers are getting a new contract that will pay them average increases of 3.4 percent over each of the next four years.

Both measures were approved unanimously with little discussion during an hour-long meeting at Morristown High School.

Board members also announced community information sessions about playground remediation plans for the Alexander Hamilton School (May 5, at 7 pm) and athletic field lights at the high school (May 26, at 7 pm).

Board Vice President Linda K. Murphy, Morris School District, April 25, 2022.

The president of TEAM, the 750-member teachers union (the acronym stands for The Education Association of Morris), was pleased with a contract she said contains the largest teacher raises in Morris County.

“We worked amicably and collaboratively so we could have something in place by the new school year, so the focus could be on (hiring) a new superintendent, said Deirdre Falk.

The school board aims to start searching this summer for a permanent successor to Supt. Mackey Pendergrast, who retired last November and now is an assistant commissioner in the state education department.

Ninety percent of Falk’s members voted for ratification of the pact last week, she said. Negotiations only took about five months, she said.

Things were rockier in the summer of 2020, before COVID-19 vaccines were available, when the union strongly opposed reopening in-person classes that fall. District officials countered that the state required reopening, and hybrid schedules were hashed out.

The new contract recognizes “the quality of the professional staff” that enabled schools to open their doors “when everyone else was going sideways” during COVID, said board member Nancy Bangiola, head of the board’s negotiating committee.

Board member Susan Pedalino, Morris School District, April 25, 2022.

By year two, the accord will boost starting pay to over $60,000, helping the district “continue to attract the very best teachers…The teaching staff that we have is our strength,” asserted Bangiola, praising negotiators on both sides.

Susan Pedalino, a school librarian and member of the NJEA, the statewide teachers’ union, was the lone district board member to abstain on the contract vote.

The fiscal impact of these increases will be blunted by retirements at the top end of the pay scale, and by the same careful planning that produced the new budget, Bangiola said.

BUDGET NUMBERS

That budget stays under the state-imposed 2 percent cap, while maintaining the district’s debt-free status, said district Business Administrator Anthony LoFranco.

“I think it’s fantastic. To come below 2 percent is almost unheard of in the state of New Jersey. And we’re able to fund all the programs that address the needs of our students,” said board Vice President Linda Murphy, the finance chair. “I’m totally proud of all my fellow board members and the central office staff.”

Business Administrator Anthony LoFranco, Morris School District, April 25, 2022.

Taxes for the regional district are apportioned via a complex “equalization” formula. The “average” Morris Township homeowner (home assessed at $560,000) will pay about $14 more per month — an extra $170 annually — in school taxes.

An average Morristown homeowner (home assessed at $357,595) will see an annual increase of just under $18. That’s about $1.50 more per month. Morris Plains pays tuition for borough students to attend Morristown High.

Contract talks now shift to unions representing secretarial staff, school principals and administrators, Bangiola said.

IN OTHER BUSINESS

The information session on May 5 will discuss options for dealing with a Revolutionary War-era dump identified beneath the Alexander Hamilton playground, Murphy said.  Options include excavating and filling in the dump, and paving over it for more parking, she said.

According to LoFranco, the “Historic Fill” discovered by a consultant consists of a “combination of coal lumps and fragments of ceramics, glass, and seashells at varying depths…”

A playground and field behind the school were closed to students last fall, when Pendergrast informed parents about the discovery of the Historic Fill, along with higher than normal levels of Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons (PAH’s), “a class of chemicals that occur naturally in coal, crude oil, and gasoline…and are also produced when coal, oil, gas, wood, garbage and tobacco are burned.”

At the time, the superintendent emphasized that no contaminants were found inside the building. Citing state Department of Environmental Protection standards, Pendergrast wrote that children “would have to ingest the soil or have direct skin contact with the soil for 18 hours a day for 350 days out of the year to be at risk.”

The field and playground were closed “out of an abundance of caution,” he said in his September letter.

LoFranco said The DEP defines Historic Fill as “non-indigenous material, deposited to raise the topographic elevation of the site, which was contaminated prior to emplacement, and is in no way connected with the operations at the location of emplacement and which includes, without limitation, construction debris, dredge spoils, incinerator residue, demolition debris, fly ash, or non-hazardous solid waste.”

Board member Meredith Davidson, Morris School District, April 25, 2022.

Plans for a new turf field, scoreboard and lights at the high school, meanwhile, will be the topic for May 26.

A committee of parents and staff also has begun planning for a fall celebration of the district’s 50th anniversary, said board member Meredith Davidson.  The pandemic prevented festivities last year.

The district also is hunting for a new place to park many of its school buses. The lease on its Ford Avenue parking area is about to jump by 300 percent, Murphy said.

This story has been updated with additional details about the Alexander Hamilton soil findings.

If you’ve read this far… you clearly value your local news. Now we need your help to keep producing the local coverage you depend on! More people are reading Morristown Green than ever. But costs keep rising. Reporting the news takes time, money and hard work. We do it because we, like you, believe an informed citizenry is vital to a healthy community.

So please, CONTRIBUTE to MG or become a monthly SUBSCRIBER. ADVERTISE on Morristown Green. LIKE us on Facebook, FOLLOW us on Twitter, and SIGN UP for our newsletter.

[interactive_copyright_notice float='left']
[icopyright_horizontal_toolbar float='right']

5 COMMENTS

  1. There should be a requirement in this country that everyone that makes a hobby of slagging on teachers should also post their own job and then invite random members of the public to do a running commentary on their job performance.

  2. The wonderful student athletes at Morristown Highschool are finally getting an opportunity to play night games!

  3. The lights at the field will benefit all student athletes at Morristown HS not just football. Sally, you should consider checking out a MHS girls lacrosse game, they’re ranked number 2 in the state. Have you ever witnessed the student body turn out at a Texas high school football game?? That is something that we should strive for. Our athletes won’t have to be bused to other fields for practice and a Friday night game will increase school spirit, unite the school with the community, and help keep students at Morristown instead of local private schools. Many people in the community walk/run that track and the lights will make it safer for them to enjoy. Not to mention, the student/athletes deserve to stay on campus for practice and not have to get to Cornine, FMS, or Central Park. Additionally, the lights can potentially help generate income for the district. Let’s invest in the total student experience and not one single aspect.

  4. This district hasn’t done one prudent thing for the taxpayers. Explain to me why the district needs lights on the football field? I’ll tell you why the head coach who’s most likely a teacher doesn’t want to work on Saturdays. This isn’t Texas Morristown high school isn’t a football factory. It says in the article the teachers union fought to keep the doors closed in 2021 now we have to give them a raise because they worked during that time? News flash everyone worked and based on what I saw from my two children’s teachers during 2020 and 2021 there wasn’t much work going on. The specials classes were the biggest joke. The district should’ve furloughed those teachers to save some money during that time.

  5. God bless our heroes. Raising a budget takes courage. Great job Susan pedalino. Why did she recuse herself but Vivian Rodriguez didn’t both are educators. Cut some administrative fat and then maybe the teachers can have a raise. Why do you have an assistant super but still need a substitute super? Why does it take over a year to find another super? If the assistant can’t take over the job why is that person employed? Will the football field generate revenue for the town now that it has lights? How many night games will be played there? How much per game will the electric bill be? Why is the townships increase higher then the town? The township needs to be more like the town and give out pilots to reduce the tax base.

LEAVE A REPLY