Members of Haddonfield Memorial High School’s new Jewish American Cultural Club (JACC) opened the Feb. 23 board of education meeting by sharing reflections on their recent trip with 50 students and faculty to the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C.
The club was founded about a year ago by Charlotte Berman, after her brother found a swastika on the Haddonfield Middle School playground last spring. Though it started small, with only four student officers, the club today has more than 80 members.
The trip was sponsored by the Jewish Community Relations Council and the Esther Raab Holocaust Museum and Goodwin Education Center. Student representatives came from the JACC, the Asian American Culture Club, the Gender Sexuality Alliance, the Black Student Union, anti-bias leaders and students from the Holocaust elective, among other groups.
Berman reflected on why the club and the museum trip are meaningful to her.
“We have managed to create a safe place for Jewish students to connect, and a fun and engaging club for Jewish and non-Jewish student members to celebrate the culture through sharing personal experiences, participating in holiday-inspired activities, and eating traditional foods,” Berman explained.
“I never thought that I could have a Jewish connection in Haddonfield,” she added. “ … If sharing our culture and traditions can help educate and reduce ignorance and hate in some small way, then our efforts are truly worthwhile.”
Moira Geiger, a Haddonfield senior and anti-bias leader, said that the trip would “forever stay with her.”
“Never had these historical tragedies felt so real to me like they did upon visiting the museum,” she recalled. “This trip makes you reevaluate your perceptions of hate and inequality, and the message of taking action is one I wish to spread within my community.”
Later in the meeting, board member and Business Administrator Michael Catalano gave an overview on the preliminary school district for fiscal year 2024, estimated to be $50,828,645, with the operating budget making up its largest part, $46 million.
Catalano noted that about 75 percent of the operating budget is made up of salaries and benefits.
“People are the biggest investment we could have, and that’s probably the best investment we could make for our students, so we’re investing in our teachers,” he said.
The capital outlay sets aside $1.5 million to fund the district’s purchase of the Kingsway Learning Center, an outlay approved at the board’s previous board meeting.
Catalano also highlighted three new additions to the budget: three new content-area supervisors; creation of a math committee; and the purchase of a new bus, with the old one to be sold.
Items that would continue to be budgeted for include Promethean Interactive panels, the 1:1 initiative (where students receive laptops) from grades three to 12, furniture for flexible learning districtwide, the curriculum writing program and the 18-21 that started this year.
Catalano said that there were no grants for Title I or Title IV this year because they were driven by a lower-income population, one now too low to be eligible for the funds.
He also broached the concern about a fiscal issue in the future, since the 5% increase in salaries and benefits is higher than the 2% percent tax levy allowed, even with the district eligible for an enrollment adjustment this year because of the increase in students. The result could raise the tax levy to 2.3 percent.
“Realistically, we’re pretty financially healthy, which is good,” Catalano noted. “But this is a sign of a fiscal cliff. There’s no denying that.”
In other news:
- The board approved a high school summer college essay course for June and July run by Corrine Welsh, at a cost of $200 per student
- The board approved a bid to renovate the bathrooms at Elizabeth Haddon Elementary School for $439,000, and at the high school for $419,000 to Kavi Construction, and rejected the bids for renovations at Tatem Elementary.
- The district accepted a donation from the Haddonfield Educational Trust of $14,804.40 for teacher grants
- The tentative budget is $50,828,645, with a local tax levy of $43,548,740.
The next board of education meeting will be on Thursday, March 16, at 7 p.m.