I went to the Somerville HSA meeting yesterday, and some of the (25-30) people there commented that the “budget presentation” on Monday night was not as detailed as what they had been expecting. We’ve been hearing for so long about the financial trouble that’s a-coming with this 09-10 budget and I really think people are getting fatigued by the stress of waiting for the bad news. I understand that. I know the district’s administrators have been working hard with principals and other administrators to come up with solutions for the anticipated budget gap. They’re looking at everything – with a total gap of about $2,400,000, we have to look at everything. They’re trying to keep the cuts away from the classroom as much as possible, but the changes will be noticed by all.
FYI, the Board did meet with our three unions – the REA (teachers), RAES (secretaries) and the RAA (administrators) -- and we asked them if they would open up their contracts and consider the possibility of concessions to help us meet the budget. To their credit, and in a move that was almost unprecedented in New Jersey, the associations' leaders were willing to talk, even though I would bet the NJEA strongly advised the REA against it. We even progressed to memoranda of agreement with all three groups, that would have saved the district a fair amount of money. The RAA ratified their new contract but, unfortunately, the REA and RAES members did not ratify the agreements for changes to their existing contracts. They said “no.” According to REA leaders Monday night, their members could not ratify because the district had not answered their questions. Unfortunately, their questions were things like (I'm paraphrasing), “If we agree to the concessions, can you guarantee that no more cuts will be made?” Or, “Will the district receive enough state aid (or Obama stimulus money) to make the concessions unnecessary?” Those questions simply cannot be answered. The state won't tell us about aid until at least 3/14. And the stimulus money...I'm not holding my breath on much of that coming to Ridgewood.
So Monday night, there was the budget in a sort of interim form, showing the expense categories and, for each, the budget for 08-09 and the proposed amount for 09-10. Down at the bottom was a line called “budget cuts” ($1.7 million). And at the very bottom was the remaining “shortfall,” which was about $500,000.
What’s next? The administration will keep looking for savings. They'll find them. And on March 9, the Board will be presented with the detailed budget, including an explanation of all proposed cuts. There will certainly be positions eliminated, and Dr. Fishbein explained that he wants to have conversations with the affected staff before the cuts are made public.
Tune in on March 9, after which we'll hear from the state around 3/16, we must submit the budget to the county superintendent around 3/19, we'll have the official public hearing around 3/30, and then in April there will be presentations at HSAs. Throughout there will undoubtedly be newspaper articles, etc. Finally, the election is April 21. This is going to be a tough time. It’s not going to be over April 21 nor soon after that. But what can we do but go forward?
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