"Nobody seems to care what is in the budget," board member Neil Sklaroff said after the second hearing.
On Tuesday, the board is set to discuss, and could finally vote on, the $32.18 million preliminary budget, which proposes raising taxes 8.35 percent.
On a property with the average assessment of $141,695, school taxes will increase $147.56 next year, to $1,913.78. School taxes represent about 70 percent of the total amount homeowners pay to the township and county, according to Wm. David Webb, Cheltenham's tax collector.
Although there is surprise and much delight over the harmonious hearings, reasons offered for the calm vary greatly. And not all are so sunny.
Board member Myron Goldman thinks the quiet "is an indication of outrage." Some members of the community, he said, "probably feel that there isn't much hope of keeping taxes under control any more once the board agreed to the various labor unions' contracts." After a strike last fall, the board approved raises of 8 percent for most of its employees, which will cost $2 million.
"I think the community concerned about taxes has just about given up," Goldman said. "That is not to say they are not outraged at these increases, which in my view are unconscionable."
That perspective is shared by James Pastore, the board member who sided with Goldman in opposing the raises. "If we could have held it to 5 or 6 percent, we could have saved a lot of mills," Pastore said.
To Sklaroff, the nine-member board's lone Democrat, the quiet is suspicious and politically motivated.
Sklaroff said last year's increase was smaller, yet there was more outcry.
"The question that needs to be addressed is, 'Which one was
orchestrated?' " said Sklaroff, who added that at least a half-dozen
of last year's vocal critics were Republican Party committee members or
With five seats on the Republican-controlled board up for grabs this fall, ''You have to wonder, 'Is there a relationship?' " Sklaroff said.
"There is no plan on my part," said Peter Labiak, chairman of the Republicans' school board campaign. "I am as mystified as anyone else."
Board member Phil Johnson said it was possible that the critics were out there, but were quietly scheming to "get even" in the fall.
But it is also possible, Johnson said, that for the first time people are ''simply responding to the facts." He noted that Cheltenham's proposed tax increase is in line with that of neighboring communities and that the district has done a good job paying as it goes for its services.
Of 20 school districts surveyed in eastern Montgomery County for the 1987-88 school year, only one paid less per-pupil than Cheltenham in interest and principal on loans, according to a district handout.
Five board members reached last week indicated that they believed the budget would pass when it is considered. But each said there was room to cut. And some of that cutting comes close to home.
High on the hit list for some board members is $17,000 for renovations to a board members' meeting room and the superintendent's office. "I'm not too taken by ambience," Goldman said.
Board member Charlotte Moskowitz was more blunt: "Fancy boardrooms, to be perfectly honest, I think are ridiculous . . . when we are running out of money."
Moskowitz said there were several areas of the budget that could be snipped, although she declined to be specific. For the board to automatically accept the administration's first offer for a budget "makes it look as if you never did any homework," she said.
In an interview Thursday, Superintendent Charles F. "Bud" Stefanski said he submitted a budget that was "thousands less" than what his staff had originally proposed.
Stefanski called it a "maintenance" budget that continues current programs as well as beginning some long-range planning.
Among the initiatives the superintendent included in this, his third budget, are:
* $5,000 to send three administrators to a six-day seminar that would help them recognize in potential teachers attributes such as desire, empathy and listening skills.
* $5,000 to recruit teachers. Now, the district's outreach is mainly limited to appearances at college fairs.
* $4,500 for a teacher-recognition program.
* $6,500 for expanding the High Achievement Program, which gives extra academic support to high school students who fail two classes, into Cedarbrook Middle School.