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, February 2, 2010

Budget getting pressure from all sides: less than "cap" increase is impossible

At last night's Board of Education meeting, the Board did something I haven't seen before: Mr. Hutton made a motion, stating, that the 2010-11 budget will be an "at cap" budget. Mr. Hutton sought to give direction to our administrators and to remove part of the discussion, namely, is there any chance the District can produce a budget with a below-cap increase? Discussion followed, and the motion passed 3-2. The "no" votes were from me and Ms. Brogan.

I totally understand the intent of the motion and, as I stated last night, under better (more "normal") conditions, I like the idea of giving our administrators a goal...telling them where we want to be with the budget. This seems like good management. Instead of hoping your staff achieves what you want, make sure you are clear up front with your expectations. Then it's up to them to get there. That's part of Management 101, isn't it?

On the other hand, so many of the elements of the 10-11 budget are up in the air, unknown, and completely out of our control. It seems sort of futile to "lock in" one piece of the puzzle, before we know what all the other pieces might look like. That's why I voted "no."

Here's what the landscape looks like right now:

1) We're allowed to increase our tax levy by no more than 4% (an effective increase of 3.6% of the budget).

2) We have been notified that, unlike recent years when our health insurance premiums have risen 2%-4%, this year our premium cost will be going up 25%-30%. This increase, alone, takes our budget to the 4% cap. (And that's before any other increases, for example our contractual increases in salaries and the out-of-our control increases in transportation and out-of-district tuitions.)

3) Because of #1 and #2 above, we've already estimated we'll need to cut $2.5 million to be at the 4% cap.

4) We've been told that the state may eliminate aid they owe us for this year, forcing us to use surplus that we would normally have used for next year. This would be an additional $1 million (or so) cut.

5) There is a rumor in Trenton that our cap may be reduced from 4% to 2%. If that occurs, we will need to find another $1.6 million in cuts.

Based on the above, it's virtually certain that we can't possibly raise our tax levy less than 4% (or 2% if forced).

I hate how we have to keep talking about rumors and what might happen, but, unfortunately, we can't really tackle this with more specificity right now, because we do not have these answers from Trenton. We have to wait for Governor Christie to make his budget address, which has been delayed until mid-March -- so nothing will be certain until then.

As Dr. Fishbein said in his Ridgewood News column last Friday, and again at last night's meeting, the only thing that will be certain is that the cuts we'll be making will be real, they will be painful, and they will be felt throughout the district.

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