Sorry, I have no energy today for a catchy headline. In addition, I'm having a little trouble finding time to blog in-between Board of Education meetings and my "real" job. So for now, how about a quick recap of last night's meeting?
First, the DEP held its public hearing on the synthetic turf fields to be installed at the RHS Stadium and Stevens Fields. I have to admit, I've never really understood the DEP public hearing concept. I assume the DEP is staffed by experts, scientists, etc., whose job is to study -- in a dispassionate and objective manner -- the environmental impact of projects. What does public opinion have to do with science? Are these environmental experts going to learn something from neighbors' Google searches or Powerpoints? I will say I was disappointed at the number of turf supporters who were standing in the back of the room but did not speak at the microphone. Then again, maybe they didn't have any science to offer, because the science has already been clearly presented. Anyway, in my opinion, the vote last December was the place for public "opinion," and the hearing last night was for discussion of science.
That being said, I'm all for dialogue and sharing opinions in general. I did want to point out -- anyone who was not able to attend last night and wants to share their feelings with the DEP may do so in writing for seven days. Please send your thoughts, postmarked by 3/22/10, to:
Bureau of Inland Regulation
State of New Jersey
Department of Environmental Protection
P.O. Box 439
Trenton, NJ 08625-0439
After the DEP portion of the meeting, we moved on to the 2010-2011 budget. It sucks. To be more specific, Dr. Fishbein presented the latest version of the proposed budget, which includes cuts totaling $3,354,301. In addition, for the first time, a list was given of the cuts themselves. The largest cuts/savings (those over $75,000) proposed include:
-- Elimination of 1 Guidance Counselor at RHS ($83,696)
-- Cut 3 administrators (area supervisors) by combining positions at RHS ($311,569)
-- Reduce Librarian to 80%
-- Cuts in Business Office advertising (for positions), supplies & services ($75,298)
-- Reducing supplies and services in MIS ($75,000)
-- Cuts in maintenance supplies & favorable new contract ($140,019)
-- Cuts in custodial supplies & favorable new contract ($242,193)
-- Grades 6-8 Reduce substitute allocations, cut 2 world language teachers ($287,947)
-- Grades 9-12 Reduce substitute allocations, eliminate 1 PE position, eliminate Investigation Chem & Bio courses
-- K-12 Instruction Supplies ($320,563)
-- K-12 Textbooks ($166,658)
-- Resource Center Aides ($360,000)
-- Cut 2 Basic Skills Instruction teachers
-- Restructure Collaborative program at RHS (eliminate several PT positions) ($95,838)
-- Reduce capital projects ($400,000)
As all of us on the Board have said at one time or another, none of these cuts is "good." All of these cuts will alter education in Ridgewood, probably forever. These are programs and priorities that have been painstakingly built-up over the years, and we're being forced to dismantle them in large chunks.
Most of the large audience at the Ed Center last night was teachers, and I have never heard such a large group be as quiet as it was when these cuts were reviewed. Talk about silence you could cut with a knife, it was beyond that. Afterwards, I think five people got up to speak. I was shocked. When I first saw the crowd, I thought I'd be sitting there for hours, as each person came to the microphone to plead for their program or position. But only five speakers? All I can assume is that the rest of them were stunned -- by the enormity of the problem and by the reality that with cuts this far-reaching, asking the Board to "find the money somewhere else," is close to futile.
That's not to say the administration and Board aren't still working. They are and we are. These cuts are preliminary and we will continue to try and come up with a solution that does the least harm.
Of course, to make things even worse, today Governor Christie makes his budget address and the advance reports say that schools are going to get hit with more cuts from the state. We face a reduction in aid from the state and a potential lowering of the "budget cap" from 4% to 2.5%. This will be devastating. (Have I used that word already? If so, sorry. I need to keep that page of my thesaurus folded down.) After today's speech, the state has until Thursday to tell school districts exactly what is happening with aid. Also, we are hoping that by the end of this week, we will have the quotes back for our health insurance plan, so we'll know for sure how much our premiums are going up. (Or, we'll have a better idea -- nothing can be locked in until after the budget election...just another flaw in the system.) We're currently estimating an increase of 25%-30%.
At the end of this week, with the real numbers from the state, and somewhat more "real" numbers from health insurance, the administration will go back to the budget and make more adjustments and -- probably -- more cuts. The budget will be presented to the Board at next Monday's meeting, and the Board will be asked to vote to approve the dollar amount for the budget (not necessarily the specific cuts). More to come...
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