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, February 1, 2011

Shedding a little light on the facts about fields.

Forgive the pun, but I thought it was time to clarify and correct some of the “news” you may have been hearing about the fields and lights at RHS Stadium and Stevens Fields.

Friday’s Ridgewood News hosted several concerns about the funding for the lights. There was an allegation that one sports group may pull-out of the commitment to donate a minimum of 40% of the lease payments for years 2-5, if that group doesn’t get its way in terms of light shut-off times (as in, later light shut-off times). As BOE president Michele Lenhard said in that same newspaper article, the Board has a good-faith agreement with a group of sports organizations, and as of now, we are confident that the group will meet its commitment. There was never a promise of time for money, but rather an assurance from the District that rec sports groups need not worry about losing time on Stevens Field and RHS Stadium. Everyone involved in the arrangement pledged to use reason when working out schedules for use. The Fields Use Policy that will determine what days and times the lights can be used is currently being developed by the Joint Village of Ridgewood & Board of Education Fields Committee, and it will not be determined according to donation levels. The policy is scheduled to be presented to the BOE on Monday night, for discussion, public comment and possible approval. The policy will also need to be presented to the Village Council (date unknown) for their own discussion, public comment and approval.

Friday’s paper also contained some sensational claims about funding for the lights causing teachers to be fired or other staff to be cut. That is simply not correct. Here’s the explanation for the funding:

The lights were purchased with a five-year lease/purchase. That means we make five annual payments of $105,000. The first payment was made with funds donated by the sports groups. For year two, the BOE budget for 2011-12 includes 100% of the lease payment ($105,000) in the General Purchases line, the funds from which are not allowed to be used for paying staff. The General Purchases line is for one-time costs such as facilities repairs and summer maintenance projects, not for on-going personnel costs.

When the BOE receives the donation from the sports groups for year 2, the funds which had been earmarked for the lights will become available for other one-time building and maintenance costs.

In years three through five, the Board will have the ability to use unspent money from the referendum to complete our portion of the lease payments. (Currently we are running about $2 million dollars under budget on referendum costs.)

I hope this clears up any concern you might have had based on Friday’s newspaper. As you can see, asking parents if they are willing to give up their child’s teacher to pay for the lights is misleading at best.

Bonus post!

If you’re wondering what’s the real story about baseball diamonds in Ridgewood (and I hope you do want to hear the real story), here it is in a nutshell:

We all know Ridgewood doesn’t have enough field space for the children who currently play sports (this was discussed at length when the Village commissioned the Recreation Master Plan) and volunteers work hard to balance field access. It's more complicated than it may seem because different age groups require different field sizes. The BOE and the Village knew when the District undertook the field improvements at BF and RHS that while access for some sports would be increased, a “domino effect” would impact the 2,000 children who play in the RBSA, as well as the RHS baseball and softball teams. Unfortunately, the necessary changes that would make more diamonds available on Village fields – whether at Pleasant Park (Lower Hawes), Habernickel or Schedler – have not yet happened. The expansion project at GW middle school will eventually add another small diamond to the mix, but that won’t help this coming Spring season. The lights at Stevens Field can potentially help, but we've got to balance their use with the concerns of our neighbors. We’re all going to need to work together, and that's the process we're in right now.

So, yes, Ridgewood has too few baseball diamonds for the number of kids who play baseball. But the BOE didn’t create this situation in a vacuum, and it appears that the ball (pun intended?) is in the Village’s field (as it were)…


Anonymous said...

If I remember correctly, when the BOE was making the case to the community for the referendum, and later the budget, we were told that by law you couldn't use the money for anything not enumerated in the referendum. The extra funds were there as a protection against cost overruns. Now we find any extra money will be used, not to pay down the debt, for tax relief, or as a set-aside for future construction needs (I won't even go into teachers or programs that were cut), but for lights, which were not in the original proposal. We were not given the opportunity to vote on lights. It feels a bit like we were played, at a time when money is extremely tight. That's why people are upset.

Laurie said...

Thanks for posting. You are correct that we are not allowed to use referendum money for anything not enumerated in the referendum…until all referendum projects are complete. And then, there are still restrictions as to how those funds can be used.

You are correct, the extra funds (both built-in contingency funds and those “leftover” due to lower-than-budgeted bids) serve as a protection against cost overruns, and so far the Board has approved several change orders due to increased costs, usually because of conditions discovered once buildings were “opened up” for construction). We are currently running at $2 million under budget, with bids coming in next week for our biggest projects, the GW and Willard additions.

Currently, we are estimating September 2012 for the earliest date that all referendum projects could be complete and the Board faced with the decision as to what to do with the leftover funds. The current BOE cannot specify where those funds will go – it must be decided by the Boardmembers who are in place at that time. The Board will have the option of returning the funds to the budget as tax relief, spending on one-time capital projects, or using the funds to pay-down debt. The funds cannot be set aside for future construction, nor could they be used for staff such as teachers. When the Board discussed the funding for the lights, we did discuss one option being that “leftover” referendum money could be applied to the outstanding lease payments. It wasn’t a secret. I viewed that as a good thing, allowing for payments without impacting the operating budget. I also believe that the parents in the sports programs will do what they did with Maple Field and come through as they intend.

Obviously, I don’t think anyone was “played.” Money is tight. But the real driver of our financial trouble is salaries, benefits, and expenses that rise beyond the 2% cap. These are things (salaries and benefits) for which the money that may be used to pay for the lights could not be used.

Anonymous said...

We are one high school baseball field shy. It was taken away when BF's 60-90 field was turned into a track and field complex.

So, where are the boys to practice and play this spring?

Hawes, a Village field, is skin field that the Freshman tolerated being lowest on the totem pole. BF was a real field with in-field grass. Now we only have one and it belongs to the Village.

It seems the BOE hasn't one HS regulation field for its baseball program. Shameful, truly shameful. But hey, Chuck and the LAX daddies got their turf field, so who really gives a rat's ass about baseball anyways, right?

Laurie said...

I understand your frustration, but your allegation that no one on the BOE cares about baseball is incorrect. Before the Board undertook the referendum projects, we met with Village reps to discuss the subsequent need for larger/improved baseball fields. We knew that by making some of the improvements recommended in the Village's Recreation Master Plan (not written by us, btw), we would be starting a chain of events. We were assured that the need to improve Hawes (rotate to lengthen, improve grass) was understood and would not be a problem. Development of the newly-acquired Schedler property was also named (back then) as something that would happen sooner rather than later. The Village has shifted its priorities following a shift in Council membership.

To answer your question, the RHS baseball program will practice and play at the new Vets 90 diamond and Lower Hawes.

The us-vs-them approach is not helpful in a small community such as ours.

Anonymous said...

Ok, Laurie, but that still begs the question, why doesn't the BOE have a HS baseball field? Excuses don't cut it about the village setting other priorities. The BOE has a responsibility to provide adequate playing fields for its sports programs. After all, parents take care of all other non HS sports. And as far as baseball goes, the RBSA has for years been paying for the upkeep of all the baseball and softball fields.

As for Hawes, it is a sorry excuse for a baseball field. And again, is not owned by the BOE. As for us vs. them, stop the nonsense. It is a fact that LAX and football dads pushed for the artificial turf. And to add insult to injury, the softball fields on Stevens are position improperly back to back, making it impossible to use simultaneously ignoring the RBSA as to where they should go.

Excuses, excuses. That is all we hear from the BOE.

Anonymous said...

Oh, and by the way, there are three teams at the HS level. So, how do three teams practice and play on two fields?

Laurie said...

What do you mean "why?" You can see why. You mean, why did we make one set of field improvements and not the other? Why does one sport "win" and the other "lose?" With our limited resources, there was no way to make everyone happy and fix everything simultaneously. Surely you can see that. Choices had to be made. Varsity baseball is back at Vets where it was played for many years.

The Village went through a lengthy process with the Recreation Master Plan. The Board went through a lengthy process developing the Referendum projects. BOTH of these processes included discussion of the displaced diamonds from BF, and ample opportunity for public input, as well as input from the Joint Fields Committee comprised, in part, of reps from the outdoor sports, including RBSA, and the HS athletic director. Nothing was done in a vacuum. The Board's many meetings and presentations clearly spelled out the changes at BF. We made good faith efforts to work with the Village at that time. We certainly did not ignore baseball. Politics and economics have changed.

FYI -- The diamonds on Stevens can be used simultaneously by younger ages (up to 10 I think?). We were not allowed by the DEP to position the diamonds differently. Sorry, but DEP trumps RBSA on field position next to a brook.

Sorry, I forgot about Somerville NW which will also be used by RHS baseball.

Anonymous said...

Laurie -- I heard there may be interest in placing a large (80' or 90') diamond at Brookside. Any truth to that? Isn't Brookside school property?

Anonymous said...

Laurie, Somerville is a skin field used for softball and RBSA baseball. It is not a true high school field because left field is too short and there is no in-field grass.

Besides, girl's Freshmen LAX practices there.

As for the DEP and positioning of softball fields on Stevens, I find your excuse very suspect. What, is the DEP dictating in what direction fly balls are hit?

Excuses, excuses.

Laurie said...

Good morning. According to the field schedule for this Spring:

M-F after school, Somerville SE will be used for RHS Softball. Somerville NW will be used for RHS Baseball.

There will be no LAX on Somerville this Spring. RHS LAX will be on Maple, Brookside, Kenilworth, Stevens and RHS Stadium (I don't know which will be girls and which will be boys).

The DEP dictated where backstops could be placed and what their orientation could be.

I'm pretty sure you can't characterize any of this as "excuses;" just facts.

Anonymous said...

Like I said, Somerville is a skin field (no in-field grass) and left field is way too short. So, we went from 2 real baseball fields to 1. Now that's what I call real progress.

And you proved my point, LAX gets new turf fields and baseball loses a field. No us vs them - just the facts, just the facts.

The fields at Stevens are useless for any team older than 10. The backstops are too small and the fields to shallow. It looks good but is impractical for anything other than little kids.

One hopes you are better at negotiating with the NJEA than you are at providing for the HS baseball program. But some how I doubt it.

Laurie said...

You are right about the diamonds at Stevens...sort of. They can be used one at a time, and little kids can use them simultaneously. Never claimed otherwise.

We clearly look at things differently. You're not happy with some decisions that were made and it sounds like I won't change your mind. I get it.

But I hear you and I do sincerely thank you for the dialogue. Maybe non-Anonymous sometime?