At last night’s forum held at H.B.Whitehorne Middle School, Superintendent Steven Forte lauded the district’s accomplishments, presented the school board’s budget and offered his vision for the future.
Forte began the evening by recognizing Verona High School’s impressive ranking, 53, out of 322 high schools in the state, and touting the district’s award-winning music program and comprehensive world language program. He noted these factors contribute to a well-rounded individual, which is a quality not reflected in standardized test scores.
Forte was also pleased with the significant rise in the number of students enrolled in advanced placement courses this year. Students in the program now number 260 up from 180 last year, he said.
While Forte seemed impressed with the schools’ achievements thus far, he is not one to remain content for long.
After recognizing the schools’ successes, Forte turned his attention to his dreams for the district, some of which he hopes to implement next year while others remain off in the distance.
New for next year Forte plans to implement dual enrollment courses in the high school curriculum. The classes would be taken during the regular school day with current staff and students would receive college credit while meeting high school requirements. These college credit courses would be made available at greatly reduced rates through partnerships with local colleges, which would serve to ensure the courses meet the rigors of college-level classes.
Forte would also like to offer career-based electives next year as well as a program for high school seniors called Careers in Education, known on the national level as Tomorrow’s Teachers. This elective would provide college credit as well through Fairleigh Dickinson University.
The district will take its first stab at dual enrollment courses this summer when it offers a summer enrichment program for high school students with three classes providing college credits.
One course in the culinary arts will be taught by an actual chef through a partnership with Bergen Community College with the two other courses, one in history and one in English, offered through a partnership with Caldwell Community College.
In the not so definitive future Forte’s initiatives include implementing a K-12 STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) program which would bring a lab environment into the elementary schools, a full-day kindergarten program if voters approve the initiative in the upcoming November elections, and a K-5 elementary school model instead of the current one that tranfers fifth graders to the middle school.
He would also like to make technological upgrades, incorporate more non-fiction into the curriculum and direct the district’s attention to a career-based program focused on areas of national job growth. Fields like education, healthcare, environmental engineers and computer and math sciences will see tremendous growth in the years ahead, according to Forte.
“We should expose children to those areas,” he stressed.
Recognizing the ambitious plan he was outlining, Forte admitted, “I don’t know if we can accomplish all this, but this is what I’d love to work toward.”
Then it was on to the budget. The $32,790,349 proposed budget represents a 2.37% increase on the tax levy, which is allowable even with the 2% cap because the district was eligible for “an automatic cap adjustment due to excessive increases” in healthcare costs, according to Forte.
The major drivers are state mandates, staff salaries and benefits and increased student enrollment. The budget breaks down as follows:
• 71% goes to salaries and benefits
• 20% goes to Special Education
• 6% goes to non-discretionary spending
• 3% goes to discretionary spending
All but a fraction of this money is raised though local taxes. “Not even 3% of our budget comes from state aid,” Forte said.