I couldn't make it to the Forum at Paramus High School tonight...I know some Ridgewood residents attended. Here's the story from the Bergen Record at www.northjersey.com:
Educators, taxpayers and students took to a forum at Paramus High School Monday night to protest cuts in state aid that they contend will devastate the quality of their schools.
“Governor Christie’s proposed cuts … are the most irresponsible, insensitive and reckless act by a public official I have ever witnessed,” Charles Reilly, a former president of the New Jersey School Boards Association, told the crowd of about 120. “It cannot be justified.”
Christie’s proposed budget for fiscal 2011 slashes state aid to schools by $819 million, with some districts losing as much as 5 percent of their entire budget. Christie blames the severity of the cutbacks on the loss of $1 billion in federal stimulus money for schools this year, and says he was hired to clean up the state’s financial mess after years of overspending.
Signs reading “Bergen County United” dotted the auditorium and organizers hope the county’s 15 state legislators will fight to reverse the cuts. Dollar$ and Sense Education Advocacy, which pushes for effective school funding and says Bergen County deserves a fairer share, arranged the forum.
Bergen faces $102 million less in state aid next year, a 41 percent reduction. Passaic will get $64 million less, an 8.5 percent cut.
The average reduction in aid for counties is 17 percent.
“Maybe the districts’ anti-bullying policies should be applied to the governor as well,” said Richard Snyder, a Ramsey school board member who runs Dollar$ and Sense.
Paramus Superintendent James Montesano said he hosted the forum in part because his district, which is losing 99.8 percent of its state aid — $3.5 million — is a “poster child” for the harsh impact of the cuts. The district faces the loss of 18 teaching positions and 18 support staff.
“Given the fact that Bergen is densely populated, when you tally up the amount of dollars floating down the Turnpike south to Trenton in sales tax, income tax, licensing fees for motor vehicles, with Paramus shopping centers … and seeing so few dollars float back this way,” he said.
State Sen. Bob Gordon, D-Fair Lawn, said prior to the forum that Bergen had “taken a disproportionate hit. If these cuts are sustained we’ll see a dismantling of some of the best schools in the state.”
Gordon said superintendents have warned of more than 1,000 layoffs countywide, and that he and his allies would do their best to push for a different plan for distributing aid. The Christie administration asserts that they used a 2008 court-approved school funding formula when calculating aid cuts, but critics disagree.
“When we get into budget negotiations we’ll argue for an alternative approach,” said Gordon, citing examples such as temporarily re-imposing the so-called “millionaire’s tax” on residents with incomes over $400,000. Christie has said New Jersey needs to cut spending and stop relying on boosting taxes that push businesses and high earners to leave the state.
“I’m hoping there will be give and take,” Gordon said. “We can’t solve 15 to 20 years of problems with one budget.”
Matthew Howard, student council president and a football player in Glen Rock, said he is worried about how fellow students would fare with fewer AP course options, bigger classes and the elimination of freshman sports teams.
“If I was only able to participate in three years I don’t know how far I would have been able to go,” he said. “It wasn’t just about winning games. You really find your character being a member of an athletic team. It’s hard to make a team in four years let alone have to do it in three.”
David Verducci, the Glen Rock superintendent, said that while he doesn’t object to the governor’s mission to conquer the state’s deficit, “he wasn’t elected to decimate schools. We could accomplish his goals if he’d talk to us.”
Verducci and other administrators said easing costly, wasteful mandates that impose tons of red tape on districts would be a better way for Trenton to save money.
“He should try diplomacy instead of strong-arm tactics,” Verducci said. “What political capital will he have left when schools in Bergen County are decimated?”
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