Westfield BOE Moves Election to April; Voters to Approve Budget

By L.K. MATA CUEVAS
For The Westfield Leader

WESTFIELD – After years of holding its elections in November, the Westfield Board of Education unanimously approved moving its election to the third Tuesday in April, which will be April 18, 2023. Superintendent Raymond González, Ed.D., and Business Administrator Dana Sullivan presented an “overview” of what this could represent and what to expect from this change.

According to Dr. González and Mrs. Sullivan, the purpose of this change is to maintain and expand current educational programs, allow the public to vote and have a voice in regard to the district’s budget and to be able to exceed the 2-percent tax-levy cap when necessary.

Dr. González explained that this change, “will allow the school district not only to stop having to make any tough decisions about what to reduce when it comes to our schools, but more importantly, how to maintain and expand the programs offered in support to our students.”

The board started considering the possibility of moving the elections earlier this year following a highly dramatic and controversial 2022-2023 budget approval session where a $2.3-million budget deficiency led to cutting teachers and staff to be able to meet the district’s financial demands.

As a consequence, the change in the election date from November 8 to April 18 will extend board members’ service by four months, according to the resolution. In April, Westfield residents not only vote on the budget but also elect three board members, explained Dr. González. Board member Amy Root emphasized that in order to vote for the budget, the board election must be moved as well. “If anyone had any concerns that we are trying to extend our own terms, our focus is on the budget,” she clarified.

The election itself is estimated to cost $40,000 and also will change the annual reorganization meeting schedules. Presently, reorganization meetings are held twice a year; instead there will be just one.

Rather than start working internally on the budget in October, Mrs. Sullivan said that the first public hearing will be in March. “Our internal process wouldn’t really change. What changes is the timeline change,” she said. “It’s quick.”

Even though the resolution passed unanimously, board member Robert Benacchio expressed his dislike for the idea. “I feel like this is treating a side effect, not a problem, and that’s not the fault of anyone here,” he said. “It’s a function of the structure that’s being set up for boards and district administrators to operate within. I feel it’s like Westfield is almost a victim of their own success.”

Referring to the enactment of the 2-percent cap rule he said that the legislation only considers income and puts “everything on taxpayers” to fund their district. “It assumed level of excess and largesse in a budget,” Mr. Benacchio said. “It fails to account that in any way, shape or form for the fact that costs go up. Which is a relatively simple concept for all of us who live in the real world, because there isn’t a time when costs don’t go up.”

Westfield resident Kyle George also questioned the tax impact involved in this matter. He expressed concern about the resolution being passed without explaining details regarding the percentage increase the Westfield district could face next April. “One thing we didn’t really talk about tonight and you talked about the limitations of the 2-percent cap,” he said. “But what kind of tax increase are we really looking at? Two percent wasn’t enough; are we looking to 7 percent, 10 percent or for multiple years [tax increase]?”

Mr. George asked the board to be transparent about the financial impact Westfield families are expected to consider next year for property-tax increases. “Most taxpayers in Westfield already pay a five-figure property tax,” he said. “It’s public record property taxes are very expensive in Westfield, and I think that 65 percent of it goes to fund the schools already. But let’s get real and figure out or disclose what you are really looking at for the 2023-2024 budget.”

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