Council members respectfully disagreed as to the body's final decision on the rejected school board budget. At last night's Village Council meeting with district officials looking on, Councilman Paul Aronsohn announced he would not vote to make further cuts.
However, Mayor David Pfund, Deputy Mayor Keith Killion and Councilman Patrick Mancuso were hesitant to reject a perceived directive from voters to make further cuts to the Board of Education's 2010-11 budget. Councilwoman Anne Zusy was absent due to health reasons.
"I've been trying to wrestle with this... I just can't support a reduction to the budget," Aronsohn said.
Laying out several reasons for his decision, Aronsohn said he didn't think a "no" vote necessarily meant people wanted a cut. Instead it could have been a protest vote for personal programs cut. As one resident pointed out in public comment, others were confused to what they were actually voting on.
"At the end of the day, we have to realize that once you take it away, you can't give it back..." he said. "I don't think we need to do this on the backs of our students."
Aronsohn said teachers were treated unfairly by politicians, the media and public; that education is an integral aspect to the Ridgewood community; and cuts to education could lower property values.
He also suggested cuts to the village budget would offset the tax burden to the public and save some educational programming.
Killion disagreed with that assertion. "People come to Ridgewood for a variety of reasons. To make further cuts to our own budget to offset theirs doesn't make sense," he said, pointing to cuts in Parks and Recreation that residents have spoken up on.
Although Mancuso opposes further cuts to programming, he wants to honor voters.
"It's not up to us to say why people voted 'no,'" he said. "We have to listen to the people... We may not agree with them, but you have to respect them."
The outgoing mayor agreed with his outgoing colleague.
"There's a sanctity in the vote, and I don't think we can ignore that message. The message was sent and received," Pfund said.
After residents voted down the budget by 102 votes April 20, it was sent to Village Council, which is required to making a resolution on a budget total. The body met with the Board of Education April 26 and asked for directives as to what could be cut. The BOE resolved May 3 to officially request no further cuts be made. Last night, it shared that programs earmarked to be reinstituted by health insurance savings would be the first to go again.
If council voted to make further cuts, the following (in no order) would be considered for reductions:
- Reduce library staff districtwide to 80 percent time;
- Eliminate public information officer;
- Cut a middle school music teacher;
- Eliminate elementary school instrumental music;
- Make the high school media center a less formal setting by cutting a librarian; and
- Reducing child study team staff from six to three members.
Newly appointed BOE President Michele Lenhard outlined several reasons to maintain the budget as is. She pointed to a drastic increase in insurance rates and decrease in state funding (for this year and last year's budget); eliminations to nearly 60 staff members already; freeze of salary for nonunion employees (including the Education Center); no concessions from unions; and continued acclaim as a high-performing district.
Over the past few weeks, Ridgewood schools were named nationally as one of the "Best Communities for Music Education" and statewide as a high-performing district by the NJ Department of Education.
Council will meet again May 17 and issue a formal resolution on its budget decision.