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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

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Reality bites.

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:
Dennis Contois
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...

12 comments:

Anonymous said...

Have the unions been asked to forgo pay increases?

Anonymous said...

It sounds like all of the teachers that attended the meeting support each other well. Maybe all of the teachers and administrators could decline their salary increases for the next few years and even take a pay cut. That would provide enough revenue to preserve all of the positions being eliminated. If they contribute to the cost of their benefits they could eliminate all of the budget cuts. Why not propose it at the next meeting and see who volunteers first.

Laurie said...

We did ask all of the bargaining units (including the REA, which is the teachers' union) if they were willing to make any adjustments to their contracts. Depending on whom you ask, the leadership (not their members) either said "No," or "We're waiting until the state comes out with its budget numbers."

The governor gave his budget speech today and we will get the definitive info on what it means for Ridgewood for 2010-11 by Thursday. It looks like we will need to cut even more.

Anonymous said...

Laurie:

I'm disappointed by your comments on the DEP meeting on several levels:

1- You seem to misunderstand what the DEP was looking for in their meeting. They want to hear
observations about this particular spot in New Jersey. They have responsibility state-wide and
want to make sure they haven't overlooked anything peculiar to this specific situation. They
take verbal statements, written statements, pictures, anything. This is called data collection
and it's part of the scientific process. I'm sure the DEP is good at deciding what's opinion and
what's fact. That's what they do.

2- And when should a government agency not listen to public opinion, anyway? Do you and the BOE speak for every single resident of Ridgewood? So much so that the DEP should not bother to come in and do some due diligence? Much as sometimes you and the administration appear to believe otherwise, there are other opinions that deserve hearing and other facts that may not have been given sufficient weight.

3- I'm curious what you mean when you say "the science has already been clearly presented". I
saw no science last night. Engineering drawings are not science and neither is the REAC
document, so I'm not sure what science has been done and I'm not surprised that the DEP might want to dig a little deeper. I do agree there is no science coming from
the turf supporters, just data from the people who live right next to the fields.

It's too bad that a desire on the part of the BOE and the administration to turf the closest field to the High School
has resulted in the selection of the worst site possible in the entire Village. Science had
nothing to do with this.

Anonymous said...

Laurie,

It is incumbent upon you and your fellow BOE members to insist on the REA/NJEA to renegotiate their contract now. The health care portion of their contract, in our budget, is what is driving this massive shortfall. Time for teachers and administrators to join the rest of us in contributing to their insurance premiums. Private sector employees contribute 50% to their health care plans plus deductibles and co-pays. The teachers pay zero for themselves and 1.5% for their families. Hardly in line with the rest of us. Time to demand accountability. And if they wont agree, lock them out, privatize the district and be done with the union. really, what are they going to do, picket? Big deal, let 'em, there will be other teachers lining up at the door to take their jobs.

Laurie said...

Oh, hi Anonymous! Nice to hear from you again. (Ha Ha sorry, just a little "blog humor.")

1) First of all, you may be on to something in my lack of understanding what the DEP was looking for. As I think I've mentioned, I never could get a clear explanation as to what they were looking for with the hearing, even though I asked. That being said, however, I may disagree with your definition of "data" in this case. Neighbors talking about things that they feel they've seen, is not environmental data. It’s opinions and perspectives. You could have 5,000 people state their opinion that 2 hydrogens plus one oxygen makes vinegar. That would be DATA. But it wouldn’t sway a scientist, and I’m not sure how relevant it would be. I do agree with you that the DEP is good at deciding fact vs. opinion. I have no doubt of that.

2) I agree in general that public agencies should listen to public opinion. That’s why we held a referendum. The public agency that is the School District asked the public to state its opinion – whether or not those fields should be turfed – via votes. On the road to that vote, there were ample opportunities for opinions to be shared. As to the science of environmental impact, I don’t think that should be a matter of opinion.

And, to your questions about me: Don’t be silly, I realize I and the BOE don’t speak for every resident of Ridgewood. And of course the DEP should do its due diligence. They have been doing it for several months via meetings, letters, research, visits, etc. And do you really believe I am intolerant of other opinions? If that were true, I don’t think I’d host this blog or conduct myself the way I think I always have: with an open mind. I will take any call, read any email and go have a cup of coffee with anybody who wants to share their opinions, no mater how contrary to mine. Just because I don’t agree with your opinion, doesn’t mean I don’t hear it. Here I am, listening to you right now. I don’t know what else to say about that.

3) What I mean is, the science is already out there, in the environmental science and consumer protection arena …in documented studies and research data. Engineering drawings may not be science per se, but they are facts. And the REAC document cites its sources and does contain science – data collected in Ridgewood.

By the way, it isn't just the BOE and the administration that wants to turf these fields. In addition to the administration and BOE, there are hundreds if not thousands of parents and kids who want this, and the Village's own master plan committee recommended it.

You are right that science had nothing to do with the selection of the site for the RHS Stadium and Stevens Fields. They are where they are, and they were placed there long before all of us came along. I don’t want to harm the environment. Do you honestly think that’s what I want? I just want more students to get more use from our fields, in a way that’s safe for the environment. I, personally, truly believe the plan we have does that, and that’s why we’ve asked the state’s environmental caretaker, the DEP, to verify it.

Anonymous said...

Let me get this right. The BOE put out a bond for fields and we the taxpayers voted on it and you don't have the permits to do this?
I don't remember that being made a point. If the DEP doesn't pass this do we get to relocate these fields out of a floodway? Does the expense of design start all over? What is wrong with you guys? If the DEP rejects your permits, who do you blame? I'm disgusted with your ignorance.

Laurie said...

I am sorry if you've missed it, but it's been mentioned repeatedly -- both before the referendum vote and ever since then -- that we were in the process to finalize the permits. It's a very long process. We applied long before the referendum vote, but the DEP works on their own schedule, not ours.

The December 8 vote date was the last viable date that we could hold a facilities referendum, and it was the last opportunity to qualify for state aid. We made the decision to proceed simultaneously because if we waited for the permits, the taxpayers of Ridgewood would miss our chance for funding.

Ever since the vote, at pretty much every public BOE meeting, Dr. Fishbein has reported on the status of our DEP permits, for which we currently have "administrative approval." (I would need to check the minutes, but I'm fairly certain there has been an update at every meeting.) The district and our engineer have been working together with the DEP, revising the plans according to DEP feedback. If the DEP rejects the permit, I suppose whom I blame will depend on the reason for the rejection.

No matter how hard I try to communicate thoroughly, I'm surprised at what people don't hear.

Thanks for posting.

Colleen said...

Laurie,
I do commiserate with you about no one listening. I contacted you personally and sent pictures of a minor rain flooding episode. Other Board members actually took the time to come and walk the area with me through the years to get a better understanding of the flooding situations
There were NO follow ups.
The neighbors were your best resource and we were and have been continually ignored.

Laurie said...

Hi, Colleen. Of course I remember the pictures you sent on August 6, 2008, regarding flooding. At that time you were asking specifically what was being done or planned with the bridge as it related to flooding. I immediately followed up with the district Facilities Committee regarding the possible impact of the bridge and the DEP’s restrictions regarding changing the bridge or otherwise impacting the flow of water. While I have not walked the area with you personally, I have walked the area several times over the past two years, during rain and post-rain. I’m sorry you aren’t aware of that. As was stated by Mr. Disko Monday night, I don’t think anyone has ever contended that there is not flooding. The discrepancy is in predicting how the synthetic field will perform during flooding. I am looking forward to the DEP’s opinion, as I believe they are the best resource in resolving this issue. I am sorry to hear the neighbors feel ignored and I apologize to you personally, but I respectfully disagree and feel that I (and that’s all I can speak for) am listening.

Colleen said...

Laurie,
I too am waiting for the DEP finding. Since Mr. Disco kept comparing Maple with Stevens it was hard to believe that he had ever walked the two. I find it hard to compare a silt covered field comparable to a corner. It seems some people and I'm not saying you since you've made it clear you've done your homework, see what they want to see.

Anonymous said...

It`s time to cut some teachers and staff and throughout the town. We just can not afford the cost anymore. After the teachers contract is up, can we negotiate a 401k plan instead of a defined benefit plan for them? Also, they need to contribute to their benefits.
I would gladly pay 2-5% of my income to sleep good at night with a good health plan. The time has come to make changes. We can not afford high taxes.