The following letter was emailed to parents today from Superintendent of Schools Dan Fishbein:
Dear Parent(s) or Guardian(s):
I am reaching out to you because I am aware that there is a great deal of anxiety about what is transpiring during this 2010-2011 school budget season. As you may know, at this point we are required to deliver a budget to the community that balances our expenditures with the revenues the district will have available for the upcoming year. Usually, about 90% of the district’s revenue comes from the local tax levy, which the law allows to grow by a maximum of 4% each year. The rest of the district’s revenue comes from state aid and other sources, such as rental of our facilities, tuition, and interest.
The state’s fiscal problems have driven officials in Trenton to announce this past week a cut of $2,985,477 in state aid to the Ridgewood Public Schools, which is 100% of our state aid. This loss is in addition to $3.4 million dollars of expenditures that we must cut from our 2010-2011 budget to stay within the 4% cap that state law puts on our tax levy growth. Much of that $3.4 million overage comes from an expected 25% - 30% increase in the district’s medical insurance premium for next year. Unfortunately, public school districts just aren’t able to create new, meaningful revenue streams, so reducing expenditures has to be our primary focus in balancing the budget. The types of cuts and dollar amounts are unprecedented in the Village of Ridgewood.
Professionally and personally, this is the most difficult budget I have had to deliver to a Board of Education in all the years I have been a Superintendent. Ridgewood is not an “average” school district. It is an outstanding one. Every single idea for a budget cut reflects the loss of a person and/or a program that contributes to what makes us exceptional here in Ridgewood. The fact that we had to make $2.5 million dollars in cuts last year means that every cut we need to make this year is even closer to the “core” of what makes this district special. The fact that I live here, and educate my own children in our schools, means that I feel the impact of these necessary but far-reaching decisions both as a Superintendent and as a parent. That’s why I began our budget development process for next year by asking for input from administrators, the district’s unions, and from your elected Board of Education. Many questions were asked, and many suggestions were made. Some ideas were viable and some were not. The viable ideas, the ones that could work to reduce our expenditures, were then prioritized. Not every suggestion I was given during the budget development process made it to the first, second or third round of proposed cuts, but many did. While ultimately, it’s not important who made which recommendation, I am grateful for every suggestion, for the thoughtfulness and concern that was evident in each and every proposal.
As the Superintendent of Schools, I am the leader of our school district. My responsibility is to provide support when necessary, provide guidance when necessary and give direction when necessary. Budget development, especially in hard times like the ones we’re now in, requires that I give direction in the form of decisions about which cuts we should use to bring about a balanced budget, and in which order. My job is to assemble the budget “package” and recommend it to the Board.
Ultimately, every budget cut that will be made is my decision. I understand that disagreement and frustration about the budget cuts, and even about the budget process, are inevitable. I also know that many in the community will voice their frustration with me.
This is as it should be. I would prefer to remain the focus of discontent rather than see our cohesive community be jeopardized from discord between parents and teachers; between teachers and teachers; or between teachers and administrators. It’s normal to be angry and upset. But I urge you to refrain from directing negative emotions towards our faculty and staff. Please also know that the difficult decisions that must be made are being done with significant input from district staff and administration, and much thought, energy and emotion on everyone’s part, including mine.
We are facing difficult financial times. It is my sincere hope that we choose to face our fiscal challenges as a community rather than individuals. We can blame others because we have lost things that are important to us and we can try to protect our individual interests. But ultimately decisions have to be made and the budget has to comply with all legal requirements. In order to face these challenges as a community, we will need to accept that cuts are inevitable, and that while we may be individually unhappy with the necessary cuts, we will do our best as an educational community to go forward after the budget vote on April 20.
It is my hope that despite the difficulties ahead, we will continue our great tradition of working together to keep Ridgewood as one of the outstanding school systems in New Jersey.
Daniel Fishbein, Ed.D.
Superintendent of Schools
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