The District administration has been working on putting together a package of cuts across the district totaling $3,354,300, which is the amount we need to cut in order to keep the budget "at cap" as mandated by state law. That's assuming our aid from the state remains "flat" or unchanged from last year. Depending on what the Governor says in his budget address next Tuesday, our required cuts could go as high as $4,252,300...or even higher if the rumor of a reduced cap becomes reality.
The Board of Education has been involved to a great degree throughout the process. People have asked me to explain our involvement. I sometimes hear a question like "Why does the administration get to do whatever it wants? Aren't you in charge of the schools?" First, as I've explained before, the Board of Education is not "in charge of" the schools -- at least not on a day-to-day administration basis. That's the superintendent's job...and our job is to make sure he's doing it well. According to state statute, the BOE is responsible for supervising one person only: the Superintendent.
Dr. Fishbein will outline the process in greater detail at his Budget Workshops tonight and tomorrow, and I don't want to jump the gun too much, but I can assure you that the Board has been involved, asking questions, getting more information, pushing back on some things and asking for more on others. Each of us has focused on trying to find the least painful cuts, that will impact our Ridgewood education the least. But make no mistake, the cuts will impact our education.
Last night, the Board was presented with the current working budget, as of yesterday. The process is not complete and the numbers are not yet final. It is not "written in stone." The budget as of last night (click here and then click on "Fiscal Year 2011 Budget As Of 3.09.10" to view) shows the proposed spending (increased or decreased) in the line items as they are specified by the state. Someone questioned why the staff was not shown this budget yesterday afternoon, and the answer is -- the budget needed to be presented to the Board first, before it could be released. Any presentations to the Board must be in public -- and last night was the Board meeting. There was not a conspiracy and no evil plan. (It would have been better, in retrospect, if the staff had known that the "snapshot" budget was going to be presented last night, but it was online as of 9:00 this morning and it's still there, ready for additional public comment next week.)
Contributing to the challenges of this process is one important fact: when we talk abstractly about cuts, or cutting programs, remember that programs = people. That's where the bulk of the expense comes from. Whenever we talk about cuts, we're talking about cutting people. Since we don't want people, who are loyal employees who have served the district well, to read about their jobs being cut in the newspaper or on a blog or hear about it on the sidewalk, there are a lot of conversations that need to take place before the cuts become public knowledge. And since all these conversations can't take place at the same time, what inevitably happens is that once people start being told about cuts, the information starts to get out, and it takes on a life of its own. Suddenly everyone "knows" what's in the budget -- before they've even seen it. Rumors start flying, assumptions get made, and the process for the entire community gets exponentially more complicated, more emotional and more urgent.
Next Monday 3/15, I expect to see the budget (and cuts) in greater detail at our public meeting. Then, by Thursday 3/18 we will hear from the state as to our revenue, and whether the cap will be changed. Then we will have a very short time to finalize the budget. (Please note -- the governor's address is being held later than ever before this year, due to the new governor, the terrible state of our economy, and his new staff and new ideas. I can understand him needing more time, but this has seriously eroded our ability to have a public conversation about the budget, before the election on April 20.) The Board must deliver a budget to the County Superintendent on 3/22, and we'll hold our official "Public Hearing" on 3/31 (instead of Monday 3/29, which is Passover).
Further complicating the budget communication process is the schedule for our April Break, which has schools closed from April 2 through April 11. That doesn't leave a lot of time for HSA meetings, which are traditionally a great place for parents to see the budget "up close" and ask direct questions of Dr. Fishbein and BOE members. Because of this short window, we will be holding joint HSA meetings to discuss the budget. Please feel free to attend any of these sessions:
* March 23 @ 7:30 p.m. at BF Auditorium
* March 24 @ 9:00 AM at GW Auditorium
* March 25 @ 7:30 p.m. at RHS Campus Center
I know this process is difficult. I know it doesn't seem to make sense in a lot of ways. People will be shocked at some cuts. I wouldn't criticize these folks for "not paying attention," but let's be honest. It's hard to pay attention until things become real. That's human nature.
Please come to one of the Budget Workshops tonight or tomorrow for more info on how the process works and why. And feel free to ask any questions. I know Dr. Fishbein is answering questions at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also email me directly at email@example.com, or post a question or comment here on my blog.
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