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

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Out of town but not out of mind.

I was hoping that an out-of-state soccer tournament this weekend would give me a break from the relentless budget process. And while it was helpful to have some different vistas and some (very cold) fresh air on the sidelines, my super-connectedness made it hard to leave Ridgewood’s school budget troubles behind. With my cell phone receiving emails, tweets, texts, Facebook messages and local news headlines, the communication and comments from the public just kept (and keep) pouring in.

The main messages I’m receiving from community members are (in random order):

Fifth Grade Instrumental Music – please don’t cut it.

Librarians – please don’t cut them.

Taxes – please don’t raise them (I can’t afford to pay any more).

Taxes – please raise them (I’m willing to pay more to keep programs/teachers).

Reading Recovery – please don’t eliminate it.

Art – please don’t cut it.

Public Information Officer – please don’t cut it. We need communications now more than ever.

Administration – please cut more.

LDTCs and Supplemental Teachers – please don’t cut them.

Teachers – please renegotiate their contract and freeze or otherwise reduce their salary increase and/or benefits.

Thank you for your hard work and good luck making the tough budget decisions. There was actually one email like this today – and I really, truly appreciated it.

As for the individual cuts and the decisions to prioritize them, all of us on the Board have opinions and thoughts on what will be best for the district, given the unavoidable requirement to cut the budget. The superintendent and other administrators also have opinions and recommendations. This Wednesday, we’ll have to finalize the budget, after we know 1) what our new insurance premium will be (a somewhat lower-than-expected premium increase looks promising!), and 2) whether or not the members of our largest bargaining unit – the REA – agree to any concessions. At the 3/31 public meeting, we’ll discuss the budget cuts, prioritize them if necessary, and make any decisions required to meet the budget number.

As for the REA, I admit that I do not understand union psychology. It baffles me that our teachers – whom I generally love and respect – could possibly expect us to solve our most imminent financial crisis without their participation in the solution. As a Board member, it’s frustrating to not have “all hands on deck” and even more frustrating to make such deep cuts on some lines, while other lines (salaries and benefits) are untouched.

As a taxpayer, it’s insulting to think that while my husband was laid off for four months, and I was involuntarily cut to part time, and many of my friends and neighbors are in similarly dire straits, when we ask part of the community for help to solve our shared school budget problem, the answer is “no.”

I’m not understanding the value of the local union. Shouldn’t the community solve the community’s problems? Why should the state organization have influence over decisions made by the local union for the good of the local schools? We should circle the wagons and defend our district, our tradition of excellence, from outside pressures. If the NJEA leadership wants to do battle with Governor Christie, go ahead, but don’t use my children’s education as your weapon.

Anyway, the Board will hold our Regular Public Meeting and official Public Hearing on the Budget this Wednesday 3/31 at 7:30 p.m. in the RHS Campus Center. The 2010-11 budget, along with the current list of proposed cuts, can be found on the District website (click here).


Anonymous said...

"I’m not understanding the value of the local union."

Oh my goodness, Laurie. That's what we've been saying all along. Why do we have a teachers' union? Professionals should be able to bargain for themselves, just like the rest of us in the private sector.

Laurie said...

What, do you somehow think I was a proponent prior to this? I'm saying I don't really understand it.

A teacher friend of mine explains an alternate view, for which I don't have a quick answer:

She says that since school budgets are voted on, and people are often upset about their property taxes or the general state of the economy, collective bargaining prevents teachers' livelihoods from the "whim" of the voters. (I'm just reporting here.) It's one thing to say teachers are professionals and they should be treated as such in negotiating their individual compensation, however lawyers or accountants or whatever don't have their salaries voted on every year by the public.

So...that's another thought I hear sometimes. Do you have an answer for that?

Anonymous said...


Lawyers or accountants or whatever have their salaries "voted on" every year (and usually a lot more often) by the market.

I'm not impressed with arguments that run "We have to have tenure to protect us from our supervisors", especially at the high school or elementary school level. I invite people who say that to come out in the real world and get evaluated by a boss trying to meet a budget who has his own opinions about performance.

And "whim of the voters" denigrates the voters. The voters in Ridgewood, on the whole, are pretty responsible and are trying to balance supporting a good school system with keeping taxes at a reasonable level. Tactics such as "collective" bargaining -- really forced arbitration, tenure, job actions and the like
(aided and abetted by a compliant legislature) tilt the playing field too far in favor of the educators. People aren't stupid -- they know when they are being taken advantage of, hence the pushback, especially in times like these.

Laurie said...

I tend to agree. I'm just trying to foster a reasonable discussion.

I'd be interested to hear a history of tenure and how it came to be legislated at the state level...it's not part of the contract with the REA, as many people mistakenly believe. One of the things I'll research sometime.

Thanks for posting.