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

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Questions and answers on budget cuts

A parent recently asked me for more info about the proposed administrative changes in the budget. I thought maybe I would share some of her questions and my answers here, for others who have questions:

Why this supervisor consolidation (art and music) and not others?
While the District looked at all aspects of administrative structure from the time 09-10 budget development began back in the fall, there were a number of reasons why they only recommended one supervisory consolidation for next year. Increasing enrollment and increasing state and federal mandates have put a steadily growing pressure on school supervisory staff over the last 5-10 years. You should see how many reporting regulations the state just added over the past two years! There are like 185 pages this year alone! These accountability and workload issues, combined with rigid state tenure and seniority laws, made it clear that a larger consolidation or reorganization of supervisory staff in a single year might excessively undermine the schools.

These cuts seem extreme, and parents feel they will undermine our schools.
To be brutally honest, we are now at the point where the cuts we make WILL undermine at least some aspect of our schools and the quality of our education. The district has spent the past five years cutting around the edges, year after year, in response to state restrictions and regulations, and this is the year that there is no more "edge" to cut. We finally have to cut into actual programs. With that being said, we are still trying to keep the cuts out of the classroom as much as possible and to preserve our educational quality as much as possible. If we did not make the art/music supervisor consolidation, or if we did not change the Spanish program, then we would certainly begin cutting teachers and raising class sizes, and also cutting art and music offerings (and teachers). If we did not cut some assistant coaches, then we would be cutting complete sports. The district is proposing these current cuts to avoid cutting complete sports or reducing the number of art classes available to students, or increasing the sizes of our elementary classes. There is no state limit on how large classes can be. But Ridgewood has always prided itself on keeping class sizes low, and that seems to still be a priority for parents.

How can there possibly be a single supervisor for art and music?
I did a quick check of other district websites, and I did see several districts with supervisors of Fine & Performing Arts (combining art, music & theater). I'm not saying it's ideal, I'm just pointing out that we are not the first district to do this. We will need the art and music teachers to rise to the challenge and continue their excellent teaching and mentoring of students.

These budget cuts are terrible. I wish we didn't have to do them. I wish the state's regulations would allow us to decide how much we want to spend to educate our students ourselves. And I wish our two unions had ratified the memoranda of agreement we negotiated, to give up 1% of their raises for next year. I just want people to understand that we did try other things, but when you only have 20% of your budget to work with, to try and cut $2.5 million, it's impossible to do it without someone feeling it.

Can I suggest -- there is a meeting being held Thursday night. It's a repeat of a meeting that was held yesterday. Dr. Fishbein explained how our budget got to where we are today, the state regulations and circumstances that impact our budget, and he took 40 minutes of questions from parents on the budget and why the cuts are what they are. It was informal and very informative -- about 40 people showed up. A repeat is scheduled for Thursday at 7:00 p.m. for those who could not make the daytime meeting. (I'll be out of town Thursday so I won't be there.) If you can attend, I think you would find it helpful.

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