The Dollars & Sense Education Advocacy group recently headlined their email update “California, here we come!” It’s exactly what I’ve been saying lately. I was a teenager in California when they passed Proposition 13, the “taxpayer revolt” that lowered property taxes — and decimated school funding in ways that drove California’s schools from top in the country to the bottom, where they remain today. I worry that New Jersey’s struggle to give property tax relief will have a similar long-lasting, devastating effect on our schools.
Last week, members of Dollars & Sense testified before the Assembly Budget Committee regarding Governor Christie’s plans to cut aid to schools. The group brought 10 questions to the committee. Below are some highlights. Parents and school communities deserve answers to these questions:
1) The Governor tells us that every school will receive every dime that is currently expected. No school or school child will be short changed. This is likely correct for the current school year, but the reserve accounts being used are dollars for next year. Does this mean that schools and school children will get shortchanged next year for what we propose to do today?
2) Some of those reserves were to be used for property tax relief. Does this mean that next year property taxes will go up because we will not have the reserves intended for tax relief?
3) Reserve accounts were created, with good reasons, to protect school districts. Health and safety issues must be addressed at the time they occur. What will districts do if these needs arise?
4) Does every district have sufficient reserves to cover the aid shortfall? Will the districts whose aid exceeds the amount of their reserves have the aid paid by the State at a time when all spending is frozen?
5) State aid reduction currently qualifies as a budget waiver. Will this law, recently enacted, be changed to eliminate the waiver?
To recap, many of Ridgewood's school budget woes revolve around these actions from Trenton:
-- Budget Cap combined with rising costs means we'll have to cut approx. $2.5 million just to stay under the cap
-- State aid for this year will be cut in an amount that's equal to our budget surplus, forcing us to use the surplus now and preventing us from using the surplus for next year's budget. This could mean another $800,000 cut.
-- State aid for next year will probably be cut 15%
-- There are rumors that the budget cap could be lowered from the current 4% to 2.5% or lower.
I hope our state learns from the lessons of my home state. I love California. But I'm sure glad my kids no longer go to school there.
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: firstname.lastname@example.org