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, May 11, 2010

BOE Letter to Village Council, making the case for no further budget cuts

Following is the letter the Board of Education sent to the Village Council last week, explaining our rationale for no further cuts to the 2010-11 budget. The Council will vote on its determination next Monday, May 17.

May 4, 2010

Dave Pfund, Mayor
Keith Killion, Deputy Mayor
Paul Aronsohn, Village Council Member
Patrick Mancuso, Village Council Member
Anne Zusy, Village Council Member
Village of Ridgewood
131 N. Maple Avenue
Ridgewood, NJ 07450

Dear Mayor Pfund and Village Council Members:

Thank you for meeting with us on April 26 to discuss the Village Council’s next steps on the Ridgewood Public Schools’ defeated budget for 2010-11. Per your request, we have carefully reviewed the budget in order to provide the Council with guidance in determining the tax levy.

As you are aware, this was a challenging budget to craft, primarily due to:
• An unprecedented 30% increase in our health insurance premium;
• An $808,000 cut to state aid this year; we covered this loss by using our surplus, which would have been used for tax relief in the 2010-11 budget;
• A cut of $2.9 million in state aid for 2010-11.

After careful consideration and keeping in mind our responsibility to the educational well being of our 5,716 students, we respectfully ask that no reduction be made to the tax levy in our proposed 2010-11 budget. We make this recommendation for the following reasons:

1. The 2010-11 budget is $1,158,311 less than the 2009-10 budget. Total operating costs are decreased in next year’s budget, and our proposed tax levy is within the allowable 4% cap.

2. We made unparalleled cuts to next year’s budget totaling $6.3 million. In total we cut 30 aides, 22 teachers, 6 administrators and 5 other non-instructional positions. In addition, we significantly reduced capital projects, supplies and professional development expenses. This follows $2.5 million in cuts to the current year’s budget in both staffing and non-personnel expenses.

3. Much of our budget consists of state mandated costs. School district governance and operations are highly regulated by the New Jersey education code and over 215 pages of regulations. Many of these laws and regulations cost the district money, as do mandated activities that require expenses for professionals such as lawyers, auditors and architects.

A myriad of reports must be written and submitted to the state for their approval: five-year capital project plan, a technology plan, a staff development plan, an EEO plan, and a Quality Assurance Plan with measurable goals for each school. Each report requires staff time and expense to draft, complete and implement.

The state mandates that we provide instruction in the core curriculum content areas for our K-8 students and that our high school students meet graduation requirements in English, Math, Science, Social Studies, Finance, the Arts, Foreign Language, Health, and Physical Education. We do not have the latitude to cut teachers providing the required curriculum and instructional programs. The budget includes $201,891 for new textbooks.

The state requires that the district pay dues to New Jersey School Boards Association. This cost is $28,000 next year and is not negotiable.

We are required by the state to provide busing for students who live certain distances from their schools. The state also requires that we provide payments to parents for transporting their children to non-public schools, such as parochial schools or Bergen County Academies. Furthermore, we transport our special education students attending in-district and out-of-district placements. In total we spend $2,996,545 busing our students. This year, we will use one-time American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) money to purchase three buses that our coaches will drive for sports events, reducing transportation expenses by $25,000 for 2010-11.

Special Education is a Federal and state mandated program. The cost budgeted for special education next year is $16,552,654, to serve the 14% of our students who are classified and who require specialized programs and therapies. In the last five years the number of students with autism has more than doubled and we had an increase of 11 autistic children this year. A student with autism can cost the district anywhere from $80,000 to $120,000 a year depending on the severity of the disability and the placement. Each year 80 to 85 students require out-of district special education placements, and we are responsible for their tuition and in some cases residential costs. Tuition costs — set by the state and non-negotiable — for these out-of-district students will increase by 13.01% next year, far above the 4% cap. Our budgeted tuition line also includes the cost of sending 32 students to the Bergen Academy in Hackensack. The per pupil cost is $24,000, part funded through state and county revenues and part funded by tuition costs of $8,000 per student assessed to Ridgewood.

4. Seventy-five percent of the budget funds salaries and benefits. Next year our Central Office administrators (superintendent, business administrator, assistant superintendent, and HR director) will receive no salary increase for the second year in a row, and our non-affiliated staff will receive no increase for the first time (saving a total of $145,000). They all will also contribute 1.5% of their salary for health insurance coverage. Next year our school principals and supervisors will begin to contribute 1.5% of salary for their health benefits. Our teachers and secretaries already contribute 5% or 5.25% of premium costs for their family health benefits.

As you know, the Board has legally-binding contracts with our employee bargaining units. We requested concessions from our largest unit (teachers) three times, finally achieving an agreement with their leadership that included concessions in salaries and benefits and restoration of specific teaching positions. This agreement was rejected by the unit’s rank-and-file membership.

5. Privatizing services and controlling costs saves the district money. Before it was popular, we privatized custodial and maintenance services and saw millions of dollars of savings. Most recently, last year we privatized our field maintenance and landscaping for savings of $335,000. Our Food Services operate at no cost to the district. We join with a consortium of districts to bid supplies, electricity and natural gas. Careful energy management has reduced gas consumption to heat our buildings by 35%. Our new VOIP telephone system has reduced our telephone bills from $100,000 a year to $700 a month. We joined a consortium of districts to purchase our workers compensation and property, casualty and liability insurance for considerable savings. In spite of new charges for services such as sewage and garbage/recycling (totaling $97,000), we continue to reduce costs for many services.

6. Staffing has grown 0% while enrollment has increased 11%. Unlike the average of districts statewide, where in the past decade staffing levels have grown faster than enrollments, Ridgewood’s 2010-11 staffing level will be equal to that of 2000-01, attesting to the “leanness” of the current organization.

7. Recent state monitoring found the Ridgewood school district to be a “high performing district.” Our district was deemed efficient and effective in all areas of operation and student achievement.

8. Excellent educational outcomes for our students. Last year our students had the second highest SAT scores in the county. Our students outscore most of the I and J districts in the state tests for grades 3 through 8 and 11. Ninety-six percent of our seniors attend college and many are accepted to highly selective colleges.

Councilmembers, over the last two years we have cut our budget to the bone (over $9 million) and firmly believe that further cuts will destabilize the district and compromise the instructional program, raising student/teacher ratios, increasing class size, and diminishing education opportunities for our students. It is our judgment that no further cuts be made to the 2010-11 budget.

Recognizing your need to look at all options, if the Village Council were to impose a reduction of the tax levy for 2010-11, the resulting cuts to our budget would likely include items which were restored due to the approval of a new health insurance contract, such as:
207,300 Librarian Staffing
36,900 Public Information Officer
92,000 Middle School Music
104,800 Middle School Assistant Principal
200,000 Elementary Instrumental Music
42,000 High School Library Reorganization
397,600 Learning Disabled Teachers
1,083,300 Total Possible Restorations

It is important to note that many of these very cuts received the most protest from parents during the budget process. Making any of these cuts would adversely affect students’ education on a daily basis, and impede our ability to communicate effectively with the community. Unfortunately, these cuts remain the next most logical cuts to make, if forced to do so by a reduced tax levy.

Our community has demonstrated, year after year, its commitment to quality schools. Based on all that we have presented in this letter, we firmly believe — and hope that the Village Council will agree — that it is in the best interest of Ridgewood, and especially its children, that no further cuts be made to the proposed 2010-11 budget.


Michele Lenhard, President
Robert Hutton, Vice President
Sheila Brogan, Member
Laurie Goodman, Member
Charles V. Reilly, Member


Anonymous said...

Cut at Cottage Place.

Anonymous said...

Have to agree with 7:55pm above. Before you go cutting within the schools, look at Cottage Place and the adminstration. If you polled taxpayers, you would see that they are convinced that adminstration is too heavy and that the BOE has done a good jobs assessing those needs at Cottage Place. I think everyone needs to feel comfortable with the number of adminstrators we have.