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Welcome to Laurie Goodman's blog. I use this space to share news and opinions about education and schools in Ridgewood, the state of New Jersey and the nation, in addition to other issues I'm personally interested in. I invite you to share your thoughts, feelings, questions or opinions, too, by posting comments on any blog entry. Please observe basic courtesy -- keep your comments focused on issues, no personal attacks or bullying, please. Contact me directly at: lauriegood@mac.com

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Is it equitable? Is it fair?

Let's take the 2nd question first: is the district's proposed 09/10 budget fair? Hell, no. It's not fair that we have to make these cuts because Trenton won't let us (and by "us" I mean the people of Ridgewood not the Board of Ed) decide how much money we want to spend on our children's education. It's not fair that we have to make these cuts because the state has never fulfilled its obligations regarding funding of special ed and other mandated programs. It's not fair that we have been prohibited from setting aside money for a "rainy day." It's not fair that prices for many of our required expenses are rising more than we're allowed to raise tax revenue. It's not fair that we are forced to close the budget gap by making cuts in only a 25% sliver of our total budget because two of our unions did not help when asked. It's not fair that we now have to turn on each other, arguing over the value of this program or that. What's more important, athletics or art? Is that a "fair" question? Of course not. It's unanswerable. But in the words of my father and fathers around the world for generations: nobody ever said life would be fair. We do our best with the hand we're dealt.

Are the cuts proposed in the proposed 09/10 budget equitable? I think they are as equitable as they can be, when you factor in all the restrictions, mandatories, contracts, rising outside costs, etc. We had to close a $2.5 million budget gap. Besides the proposed consolidation of the music and art departments' supervision we are also eliminating 6.64 secretaries, 6 teachers, a librarian, 9 aides and half of all the lunch aides. In addition we are cutting in ALL areas of co-curricular activities including athletics. We are also cutting in professional development, substitute teacher allocations and are forced to use our restricted capital reserve account to make needed facility repairs. This is just a partial list but hopefully it better explains how the cuts are being distributed throughout the district. Remember, our budget must be balanced in terms of expenditures versus revenue... we cannot play the budgetary games we see on the state and federal levels.

For those who are particularly concerned about the arts, I can only reiterate what I wrote earlier this week: there are no budgetary cuts to any curricular programs in the arts in any school. AHLISSA will remain. Maroon & White will remain. Art and music classes will remain. All our talented art and music teachers will remain. Will the quality remain? Who can predict the future with certainty? I personally believe our art and music teachers and our principals will rise to the occasion.

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

Why the whine? These budget debates are really nothing new, and the perceived conflicts of perspectives have been, and always will be here for a long time to come. Jocks vs. geeks; Management vs. labor. This show is a re-run.

You act and write as if you, as a BoE member, are absolutely powerless in the debate. What's the point of being on the Board if that's your going in position? Indeed, what's the point of even having a Board, if that Board feels that it can do nothing, not even offer a comprehensive statement of mission for the budget process? Why don't you just have the superintendent forward the budget directly to the Village Council and save us all some time. As a Board, nothing was added to the process except comments like "I really wish we didn't have to cut anythng, but..." or "It's so unfair that the children of Ridgewood won't be able to have as much in the future as we did in the past, but..." or the best one, "These doggone unfunded state mandates are so unfair and we should really do something now, but..."

You guys really need to stop whining, stiffen your spines and start asking some hard questions.

Like...

Why does the maintenance budget continue to rise at an astronomical rate (more than a 40% increase) when most of the school buildings look like crap, inside and out? There is no ROI on past maintenance investments. Why should we trust you now?

Why do we try to be all things to all students with course selections? Just because why son aspires to be an astrophysicist doesn't mean that I should expect the school to offer astrophysics. The same is true with languages. Are they all really necessary? or is there a more cost-effective way of doing this like pooling students from several districts in the county, and funding the program jointly?

Why aren't you Board members thinking more? This is serious stuff and the Cottage Place vacuum is making really loud sucking sounds. And ya know what? That is what really sucks.

Anonymous said...

"It's not fair that we are forced to close the budget gap by making cuts in only a 25% sliver of our total budget because two of our unions did not help when asked."

You have some nerve complaining about that. Look at the deal the admins got and look at the deal the teachers were offered, and then look at the long-term, pension affecting deal the secretaries were offered! To even approach the secretaries is REPREHENSIBLE! The secretaries are the LOWEST paid people in the district who do all the work! Are you even aware that most secretaries make between $23,000 -$35,000 a year?! And that high figure is after spending a decade or more in the district. Who can live on that in Ridgewood? Many of the secretaries are supplementing their family income and are working darn hard for it, with NO appreciation. The responsibilities keep piling up and they are at the mercy of the administrator on what jobs they are assigned. Parents and the Administrators have no clue what a day in the life of a school secretary entails and if they were offered the job they wouldn't take it. It's grunt work and you know it. For you to whine about the secretary union not giving up their measly 1% is pathetic. And since an RHS secretary is retiring and not being replaced, there is your 1% from the secretaries. So, in fact, they did contribute!

Laurie said...

I didn’t mean to sound like I was whining. The point of my post was to let the people who are upset about budget cuts know that I understand their feelings and share them in many cases. I was responding to the cries of “not fair” and “the cuts aren’t equitable.” I wanted to let them know that the proposed cuts are across the district at all levels.

I do not feel completely powerless. Not a bit. The administration created the budget and members of the BOE have given input about priorities and concerns at our regular meetings and in one-on-one conversations. More input will come. I think we have stiffened our spines and made some hard choices. Do you think it’s easy to cut anyone from their jobs? Do you think it was easy to get the unions to the table to even talk about concessions? My spine is plenty stiff or I wouldn’t be dong this job in the first place.

As to your questions…

The actual amount of money spent on maintenance is NOT increasing 40%. Rather, projects that were previously categorized as capital projects have been re-defined as maintenance. The money was taken FROM the capital project line and placed in the maintenance line. The total amount of money for maintenance and capital improvements remains the same.

As to course selections, additions or eliminations (I assume you mean at the high school), our principal and department supervisors and curriculum & instruction office go through a very thorough review of courses as they create each year’s course catalog. It’s an extremely thoughtful process and it’s designed to offer a variety of courses for our variety of students’ interests -- without catering to every obscure interest. Each class is evaluated to make sure it’s got value as part of the big picture. There are no one-student courses created because one student has an interest.

I appreciate your creative thinking on things like pooling students for language courses, but I wonder about the practicality – who will pay for the transportation? How will courses be scheduled, and where? How will performance be assessed and which district will be responsible? How much $$ would we really save? How big would the class sizes have to be to realize the economy of scale, and how would those larger class sizes affect student learning? These are just a few of the questions we would have to ask…the kinds of questions we ask about all kinds of ideas. I'm not trying to be argumentative -- just giving some perspetive.

I don’t really know how to respond to your call for more “thinking” except to say that I’m thinking, I’m trying, and I’ll continue to do so. The fact that you’re not sure if we’re asking the right questions is as much a result of our communication and process as anything else. We can improve.

Bottom line: your point is well taken as to the appearance of "whining" and I'll try to keep that in check!

Laurie said...

As I’m sure you know, legally I can’t discuss the details or “deals” proposed in any negotiations between the district and our unions. But I can assure you that we approached all three of our unions respectfully and mindful of the value each and every one of their members brings to the district. I understand and appreciate what’s involved in the secretaries’ days as I have close friends who are employed here as school secretaries.

It’s no secret that trying to close a $2.5 million budget gap is significantly more difficult when 75% of the budget is salary and benefits and therefore off-limits to cutting. I think it’s important for the community to know that we tried to change this part of the equation. Closing the budget gap will require cuts throughout the district, whether the unions participate or not. While the district has tried to minimize the impact on students’ day-to-day educational experience, the fact is the changes will be felt by all of them and all of us. Change is hard, I get that, but we're going to come through these changes together.