Following is an email response I just sent, to a community member who wrote about concern for both taxes and maintaining quality education:
I appreciate your taking the time to contact me and share your thoughts...I can assure you I am well acquainted with the challenges faced by families struggling with severely diminished incomes.
You are absolutely correct that throwing money at schools does not make them better. Fortunately, Ridgewood continues to have excellent schools, while spending far below the state average on a per pupil basis. In fact, last year our total budget actually went down, somewhat paradoxically, even though taxes went up. (This is due to the loss of aid from the state of New Jersey -- we cut close to $3 million from our budget, but still required a 4% increase in taxes to make up for that lost aid.)
The recently-released New Jersey Schools Report Card showed how Ridgewood schools are much more efficient, by many measures, than most other similar-sized districts in the state.
I agree with the intangibles you name for maintaining quality schools, and I am happy to report that we are fortunate to have them here in Ridgewood: involved parents, motivated teachers and administrators that foster quality continue to be important elements of Ridgewood's schools.
We also have administrators and a BOE that have made tough decisions for the past few years, by:
-- cutting 20% of our administration
-- cutting over $4 million from the budget over past two years
-- reducing programs strategically, with minimal impact on students
For the upcoming 2011-12 school year, our proposed budget would require a tax increase of 2% -- in spite of rising costs, such as a projected 12% increase in health care. The reason we are able to balance our budget with a 2% tax increase is because our administrators and the Board continue to make the tough decisions necessary to remain fiscally responsible.
As a taxpayer, I understand your frustration with property tax rates and our need to rely heavily on those taxes to fund our schools, even as the state reneges on its long-term commitments to funding education, including special education. I promise you I will continue to look for ways to be fiscally responsible while I keep the quality of our education as my primary focus.
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: firstname.lastname@example.org