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Morgan 'Disappointed' in School Budget Discussion

Despite stated board goals, the village school board won't be discussing budget scenarios until January.

In his ideal vision, the school board would be tasking its top administrators to assess what a budget with a zero percent tax increase would look like. From there, all additional spending would have to be "justified."

But Ridgewood trustee Jim Morgan didn't see that scenario unfold Monday night when the first substantive 2013-2014 budget discussion came up.

When the school board sat down in June to etch its board goals, Morgan proposed specifically making a zero percent tax increase the board goal. Though he had some support from fellow Trustee Christina Krauss, the three remaining members – and the superintendent – were hesitant to endorse locking it in as a goal.

The board ultimately decided that in October Superintendent Daniel Fishbein would present what education in Ridgewood might look like with tax increases of either zero percent; 0.5 percent; 1 percent; 1.5 percent; and 2 percent, the maximum allowed per state guidelines.

October's come and gone, and the timeline, at least, has changed.

Michele Lenhard, Vince Loncto and board president Sheila Brogan said they'd prefer Fishbein have significantly more information on the specifics of the budget before they pontificated on those scenarios. Those numbers are expected to come in January, Fishbein said.

According to Lenhard, moving from October to January to hash out those scenarios "doesn't mean we're not meeting the goal, it just means we're moving the timeline...the timing of goals changes."

In agreement, Loncto said the October expectation was "overly ambitious" and more specifics would be needed to properly analyze what steps the board may or may not take for the 2013-2014 budget.

Morgan said the scenarios he expected to see were of a more general nature and not strictly dependent on the projections for the upcoming budget.

"I’m somewhat disappointed we are not meeting the goal we set," Morgan said. 

Based on early numbers provided by school administrators, should the district offer a zero percent tax increase it would need to reduce spending by just under $2.7 million.

In the past, Fishbein said any large reduction in spending could lead to the loss of dozens of instructors, clubs or athletic programs.

Pete McKenna November 27, 2012 at 11:27 PM
I think this is exactly what we voted Jim Morgan in to do. Treat the BOE like a business enterprise, with accountability and proactive thinking. It is not unreasonable to think that an operation that spends this much money annually should have multiple scenarios forecast for a variety of conditions. The language that refers to zero "increases" as a decrease in spending is problematic to me as a fiscal conservative. Zero increases means it's not going up, that doesn't mean it's going down. Zero based budgets force us to make hard choices, especially with some escalating cost structures. An explicit statement that instructors, clubs and teams are at risk if we don't increase spending turns an objective budget discussion into an emotional "you don't care about education" debate. I for one, believe it is time for Ridgewood BOE and Village Council to forecast a zero-based budget and let the debate about priorities dictate where we increase spending.
CPA November 28, 2012 at 12:27 AM
So Dr. Fishbein can't make a decision until he gets more information in January? Is this information to make the decision coming from the BA's departments? If it is a financial lack of information the BA is failing to do his job effectively."Failing to Plan is a Plan to Fail." A budget should be put to paper and a plan should be in place for us taxpayers. You were elected to provide us the information. Get to work...
AMAMOM November 28, 2012 at 03:08 AM
Imagine this: You live in Ridgewood, 2013. Your income taxes are going up if Congress doesn't extend the tax cuts. Your health insurance costs are going up as per your employer. Groceries cost more, gas costs more, heating oil costs more. Your car needs to be replaced and your kids are going to college in a few years. What can you do? Stick your head in the sand and say " I will not seek out additional income and I demand that my lifestyle not change in any way"????? No, reality is you either need more income (i.e taxes collected) or you are going to have to make cuts, even to the basics like food and shelter. Zero based budgeting is a fantasy. Fixed costs go up, they are beyond one mans control, beyond one BOE's control. There are two choices, raise taxes or cut services. Zero based budgeting is a nice way to make friends and to run for office BUT when the pencil hits the GL it's not realistic. Thanks for trying Jim, now lets get to work on reality.
Geno Malone November 28, 2012 at 04:01 AM
Am I understanding this correctly, our duly elected town official set a clear deadline to a town school board to complete its " homework" and hand in its book report. They failed to perform the task in the time allowed. Pencils down, test over -they failed. In the real world that means The Donald brings you into the boardroom and says " your fired"! I for one am outraged that more villagers are not MORE outraged. NJ said no more tax increases above 2% but the town raised them 7%. Now our own officials ( or 2 out of 5 it seems) want to cap and hold the spending and simply ask "what exactly would that look like?" And the BOE needs from June to JANUARY to finish thier book report! Unless I am missing something that screams incompetence and demands a larger public out cry. So unless all of the rest of the tax paying village residents enjoy handing over more of thier blood and sweat earned dollars for the same old same old make your voice heard because this directly effects everyone.
Inigo de Loyola November 28, 2012 at 12:41 PM
I see Amamom is still running around with her head cut off. Hysterical. Michelle, Jim, Vince, Christine and Sheila have completed this kind of work before. Same with Dan F. Take a chill pill.
Ridgewood Mom November 28, 2012 at 01:31 PM
Yes.
Bob Hutton November 28, 2012 at 11:55 PM
No, I think the clearer explanation is that Mr. Morgan made a motion that a zero increase budget be presented to the BOE. That motion was made back in the summer time. That motion was seconded, but the vote on the motion was 2 yes and 3 no's. A democratic defeat. The administration is directed by the majority of the BOE, not one member.
Bob Hutton November 29, 2012 at 12:05 AM
In the big picture, the budget being discussed has a contractual obligation to the teachers and secretaries of a salary increase of 2.75%. Trust me, the salary line for this bargaining unit is the single largest line item in the budget. Increasing that line by 2.75% when Mr. Morgan desires a zero increase is tough sledding. I know of the switch in health plans and those savings. Some of those savings allowed for the salary increase in excess of the 2% cap. Is it prudent now to say zero increase when a 2.75% increase was negotiated by the same group? You cannot disconnect those two conversations.
AMAMOM November 29, 2012 at 12:11 AM
Sorry I got hung up on the metaphor and didn't explain myself clearly. Here goes: Any BOE is restricted by Federal, State and Union regulations and agreements. A few examples, ADA, IDEA, NCLB and testing requirements. These requirements create fixed costs that the BOE cannot control. If healthcare costs are slated to go up by 5% every year by the Union agreement while special ed enrollment goes up 5% and anti bullying legislation is enacted the Board has no leeway, these have to be paid for and accounted . My point is that the board has very little control..... THE control lies in our state and federal governments. As government continues to grow, more and more legislation is passed it will cost us more money at every level... even down to the RBOE. So, is it realistic to think that we can do zero based budgeting without serious cuts..... not absolutely not. It's a great idea, just not realistic. The BOE is a microcosm of what is happening to our total economy.
maureen November 29, 2012 at 01:06 AM
I realize the taxpayers of Ridgewood are a captive audience and obviously a bottomless well of money . All of a sudden the new normal is 2% and that seems to be the floor as opposed to the ceiling. The BOE needs a reality check and Fishbein needs a pay cut. The only reasonable individual is Jim Morgan who is actually doing what we voted him in to do. Kudos to Jim .
Joseph Alvaro November 29, 2012 at 07:19 PM
Well, I say we just privatize our whole system and be done with state and fed regs. Turn the whole thing into a not for profit, end union contracts, hire and pay teachers according to supply and demand for their area of expertise.
Ridgewood Mom November 29, 2012 at 09:11 PM
There are towns setup with big houses, lousy schools and low tax rates if you prefer that sort of thing Joseph.
sandy February 25, 2013 at 09:47 PM
How come other local towns can come in under 2% w/o drastic cuts but 2% is the starting line for Ridgewood? Not everyone in Ridgewood is rolling in excess money as some of the board, and town citizens, seem to think. Their only response is "If you don't like it, MOVE."

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