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 21, 2010

Wrestling with the budget cuts.

Sorry I have been so slow to post a recap of last Friday’s special meeting of the Ridgewood Board of Education. It was such an unpleasant experience, I have been avoiding writing about it. Unfortunately, I can’t avoid thinking about it and working on thoughts and responses for the next meeting (tomorrow night).

Last Friday, Superintendent Dan Fishbein presented a list of proposed cuts totaling $3,924,494. Our job as the BOE, along with the administrators, is to identify approximately $2.9 million in cuts. These are in addition to the $3.4 million in cuts we discussed last Monday. As I’ve written before, this level of cuts is unprecedented in Ridgewood, and the results are guaranteed to alter the education we are able to provide to our children. The choices are excruciating. None of them is “good.” All of them represent a loss of service, a loss of content and, sadly, a loss of people.

All weekend I’ve been playing with the spreadsheet. How tragic and impossible is it to try and compare the value of things like Reading Recovery vs. 5th Grade Instrumental Music…class sizes vs. capital repairs…crisis counselor vs. special ed teachers at RHS, full-time librarians vs. world languages in 6th grade. It’s a nightmare scenario with no happy ending.

And then there’s the question of tax increase. All the cuts we’ve been considering are in an effort to keep our tax increase at 4% as required by the state-mandated cap. Of course, with our unexpected loss of state aid, Ridgewood could apply for (and would automatically be granted) a waiver that would allow our taxes to increase above the cap. On the one hand, it allows us to retain some services and personnel. On the other hand, it increases everyone’s tax bill. My thinking is that going above the cap is a sure recipe for our budget to fail – especially since we just asked our voters to approve a tax increase for the bond referendum.

I’ve heard from both sides on this issue. Interestingly, some towns are just passing along the state aid cut in its entirety, and raising taxes to cover it. Randolph (a district much like Ridgewood) has vowed to increase taxes 10%, in order to avoid making more cuts. Teaneck, amazingly, will also ask voters for a 10% increase – and this is after their at-cap 4% increase last year was defeated.

One cynical person said, “you should go ahead and raise the taxes more than 4%, the budget will fail, and then the Village Council will recommend cuts. They’ll never make you cut $2.9 million, so you’ll come out ahead.” Hmmm…that’s one way to look at it.

I’d love to hear from you on this topic.

Personally, I don’t see how we could ask the community to pay more in taxes, without some sort of concession from our bargaining units. Nothing has happened on that front and the clock is ticking.

Can I just complain about one more thing? The way we've got to contemplate and act on these cuts in such a short window of time, is really wrong. We are rushing, out of necessity, to make value judgments on the "worth" of certain programs and structures. In fact, we could have calmly and rationally discussed the value of Reading Recovery any time of year. We could have studied the relative worth of, and our community's priorities for, class sizes or elementary music, six months ago. Now we've got to do it in a four week period. One thing I can say, since next year's budget will probably bring more cuts, I hope we can start analyzing our options before March 2011. But for now...onward through the fire.

Tomorrow night Dr. Fishbein will present a preliminary budget, incorporating cuts based on our discussion the other night and additional input from Board members. The Board must vote on a total budget number tomorrow, so the budget can be delivered on time to the County Superintendent.

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