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, September 29, 2009

"Don't you know there's a recession going on?"

Perhaps you asked that question when you read the letter to parents from the Board of Ed last week. (A similar letter will be going out to non-parent community members shortly.) I would like to answer with my own personal opinion:

Do we know there's a recession going on?
Yes, so it's a good thing we held the list of projects in the referendum at $48 million and not more.

You see, the Board of Education has an obligation to our students, the education of whom must be our #1 priority. While we all live within local and national economic conditions, and I am respectful of (and share in) the struggles of many in the community, the students are whom we must do right by.

Our students deserve to be educated in the best facilities possible. They deserve their 43-93 year old buildings to last another 43-93 years. They deserve to not have water dripping through the ceiling, loose bricks and mortar, inadequate plumbing, and asbestos beneath their feet. They deserve to have us spend less money on heating and electricity, year after year. They deserve to have fields on which they are allowed to safely play sports, on campus. They deserve to have the outdoor wellness education required by the state. They deserve to be taught in proper classrooms, not in the hallway or in a divided room or in a borrowed administrator's office. And they deserve to not be moved from school to school, wherever they can be squeezed-in for the specialized education they require (and we are required to provide).

As a member of the Facilities Committee that worked for over a year to create it, I can tell you the list of projects was not created lightly. Believe me, the complete list of "total" needs is far longer than this. The high school alone had $20 million in facilities needs revealed by a detailed engineering study. The Ed Center building -- constructed in 1895 -- needs a whole lot of work, but we took it off the referendum list, instead focusing entirely on projects that will benefit student learning on a day to day basis. We got rid of everything cosmetic, everything simply convenient. There is no painting for painting's sake, no beautifying. And no trendy solar panels. (Calm down, I'm as "green" as the next person, but we studied them and spoke to energy experts, and solar panels have too a high cost and too low a return on investment -- it would take decades for them to pay for themselves. Putting in relatively low-cost devices to conserve electricity and control temperatures, and in some cases enhancing ventilation systems, will save us a lot of money year after year.)

Our facilities are big, they are old, and they cannot be made adequate on the $1 million to $2 million per year we have been able to budget in recent years. If we wanted to incorporate these renovations and expansions into our yearly budget, at $2 million/year how does 24 years sound?

(Time out -- just need to remind you that this is all my personal opinion. I have my own perspective. Of course, the other Board members did vote to approve the referendum projects, but I am not speaking for them as to their motivations or priorities.)

The analogy I think of is this: anyone who owns a home -- especially an old home -- has repairs come up from time to time. A broken window. A leaky faucet. A squeaky floorboard. We do the repairs as soon as we can. But eventually, if we occupy our house long enough, the roof needs to be replaced. We can do some patches here and there, but guaranteed, at some point a roof replacement is necessary to protect and shelter our lives and belongings and all that we do in our homes. I don't know anyone who can just write a check for that roof replacement, and absorb the cost in the weekly home budget. Most people I know will take out a home improvement loan and put on the new roof.

Are there things that could/should have been done differently in the past, so as not to allow our buildings to reach their current state? Perhaps. But I believe that every administration and every board of ed makes decisions based on the reality of their situations, the conditions at the time, and their best judgment. Whatever choices made in the past were made. They're done and gone. We can't change that. Right now, I am dealing with our reality. Trying to do what I feel is best for our students. This referendum will allow us to repair our buildings, accommodate growth and make the most of all our space going forward.

I hope people will continue to ask questions and get the facts before making snap "I'm voting no" decisions right now. The referendum is December 8 -- there's time for you to learn the facts. Please, email the district at referendum09@ridgewood.k12.nj.us, or email Dr. Fishbein, or email the Board, or email me, or post a comment right here. Come to a meeting or coffee. Go to the district website and read the detailed plans. Attend a community presentation on 10/27 or 11/30. Take a tour of a school (date TBA). Learn as much as you can and then make a decision.
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