A friend contacted me Friday night in response to an email I sent, encouraging residents to contact our legislators to complain about the state aid cut. Among other specific suggestions regarding healthcare and salaries, she mainly asked for fiscal responsibility. This was my response:
I can assure you we are doing or have already done many things in the name of fiscal responsibility. We have been searching for a new healthcare company and so far the companies are either declining to bid or the bids are coming in around the same place, which is an increase of 29.5% over last year's premium. Historically we have enjoyed very low increases -- last year was 2%. Over the past 10+ years increases have ranged from 2% to 14%. We occasionally compare to the state plan, but our numbers have always come out better. This year's huge increase is due to an extremely bad year for claims -- claims are running at 98% of premiums. When that happens, you can imagine the healthcare company needs to make a profit so they raise the rates next year. We are looking at a variety of alternatives. As you know, our healthcare plan is contractual, and we have one more year on the REA contract. The contract is binding: we can't do anything about it for 2010-11. I believe you're correct that the entire negotiation process is going to look very different next year.
Other things we have done to be fiscally responsible -- we privatized our custodial and transportation long ago. We dropped the extremely expensive Village as our landscaping provider last year. We have shared services agreements on office supplies and energy purchasing. We have reduced our energy costs dramatically over the past 10 years, even as we have added classrooms. We have created programs to keep special ed kids in the district, at great savings. To give credit where it's due, many of our teachers DO contribute to their healthcare, and we are one of the very few districts in the state where that is true. We also have some of the lowest administrative costs in the county and we are below the state average. That being said, we are going to be cutting administrators with this budget.
The elephant in the room is the REA (and our other bargaining units) and you are correct, we cannot continue like this. We have asked repeatedly, last year and this year, if they will open their contracts and help save the district (those are my words, not official ha). Last year we got a memorandum of agreement (unheard of in the state last year, and the unions' leadership deserves credit for this) but the members voted no. This year...well, now it is "come to jesus" time and they have a few days to step up, if they so desire. Sheila Brogan specifically asked at tonight's meeting if Dr. Fishbein would ask them once again. We will see what happens.
You are also correct that the quality of our education is at stake. We do have amazing staff and great students and a wonderful community and we will figure this out. It will be painful and there will be disagreements but I am an eternal optimist and I know we will go through the fire and come out the other side.
Sending emails to the legislators is probably futile but it's also something that can't hurt.
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