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Morris School District Budget Takes Easy Win

The $100 million plan carries tax increases.

Morristown and Morris Township voters easily approved a school budget Wednesday that will raise the taxes on an average home in Morristown about $158, and in Morris Township about $189.

The vote of 1,958-915 secures the approval of the $100,493,559 budget, which results in a tax rate in Morristown of $1.27 per $100 of assessed valuation for calendar year 2011. For a home assessed at the municipal average of $350,000, that means a yearly bill of about $4,496 (not counting municipal and county taxes, which are set separately).

The tax rate for Morris Township would be $1.40 per $100 of assessed valuation. For a Morris Township home assessed at the municipal average of $390,000, the $1.40 tax rate means a payment of $5,460.

Major cuts took place last year, but Schools Superintendent Thomas Ficarra has emphasized that "there will be no additional cuts this year to our programs" in this year's budget. It restores funds to a summer school program, but the program remains on a four-day-a-week schedule.

For the first time, tax levies for school budgets are only typically allowed to grow up to 2 percent year-over-year. The law putting that cap into effect, however, allows certain exceptions for expenses such as healthcare and pension contributions. Even with those costs included, the tax levy is set to stay under the cap, at a 1.69 percent increase.

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The three Board of Education incumbents–Terri Murphy, Marie Fornaro and Lisa Pollack–all ran unopposed and were re-elected Wednesday to new terms. In Morristown, Murphy received 495 votes while Pollack garnered 443. In Morris Township, Fornaro received 1,403 votes.

About the Candidates

* TERESA (TERRI) MURPHY

Resident of: Morristown since 1987

Children in District: Oldest child, James, graduate of MHS 2008, currently studying Marine Biology at the University of Hawai'i. Kailani is a senior at MHS and will attend University of California Davis in the fall where she will study microbiology and play on their . Joey is a freshman and Keilana is in fifth grade at Normandy Park School.

Occupation: "Retired" from 13 years with AT&T where I worked in various technical positions including Project Manager for intercontinental submarine cable systems and Quality Assurance for Asia/Pacific systems. Currently, I have the privilege of being a full-time parent.

Volunteer Involvement: Former HSA President, various chairperson positions, various Booster Club positions, current religious education teacher and Eucharistic Minister at in Morristown and working with "Sustainable Morristown."

What You Bring to the BOE: Experience as a parent, taxpayer and resident of Morristown. I am aware of the financial difficulties of our municipality, taxpayers, friends and neighbors. I am an academically-trained "project manager" and experienced in improving organizational efficiency, managing to budgets and working with and within various groups to obtain productive outcomes.

Your List of the Most Important Issues Facing the Board: Maintaining the quality of the learning experience at all grade levels, i.e. class size, teacher training, extracurricular activities, etc. while meeting financial requirements of school district stakeholders, which include, students, staff, parents, taxpayers, state and federal regulations.

* MARIE M. FORNARO

Resident of: Morris Township for 25 years

Children in District: Graduated five children from Morris School District. All five attended K-12.

Occupation: I help with the family businesses and I babysit my grandchildren five days a week. 

Volunteer Involvement: I am an active member in the Morris Area League of Women Voters for almost 30 years.

What You Bring to the BOE: I bring a history (I was an active parent in the Home and School Associations for over 25 years before I became a MSD Board of Education member). I've been an active member of the community. As a member of the League of Women Voters of the Morris Area, I have co-sponsored many candidates forums. Thus, I have learned the many facets and issues of both communities that are the Morris School District.

Your List of the Most Important Issues Facing the Board: The most important issues facing the Board are the same that face all the Boards across the state: How to implement a new and different standard of teacher evaluation, tenure reform, state aid budget cuts, the cap, etc.

* LISA J. POLLACK

Resident of: Morristown for 34 years

Children in District: Twin daughters who graduated from MHS in 2010

Occupation: Lawyer

Volunteer Involvement: Primarily with the Board of Education

What You Bring to the BOE: With my long service on the board, I bring to the BOE perspective and a broad-based understanding of educational issues and the board’s role in dealing with them. I’ve been an active member of a board that’s worked through many of the knottiest concerns in the field, and I feel that I deeply understand the district and community at this point, and can respect and reflect the various stakeholder interests in making policy decisions about education in the Morris School District.

Your List of the Most Important Issues Facing the Board: Naturally, one of the foremost issues facing this and every board involves working within the severe funding constraints caused by the economic climate, the state’s aid cuts and the heavy burden on property taxpayers (driven, in part, by a state-wide educational funding scheme that has reached crisis proportions). Putting aside the question, for now, of whether and how we might rethink how we fund public education in this state, our challenge is to try to maintain educational excellence within the district–for every student–while recognizing this financial reality. At this point, at least, it can be done here in the MSD, but only with shared buy-in as to the choices and sacrifices that must be made to get there. Throughout the process of choosing and sacrificing, the board’s goal is to both respect and support our residents, parents, staff, and, most of all, our students.

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