NEW JERSEY ASSOCIATION OF SCHOOL ADMINISTRATORSPress Release: For Immediate Release
Nancy Sergeant, SGW, 973-299-5471, firstname.lastname@example.org
Mary Appelmann, SGW, 973-263-5182, email@example.com
Brian Hyland, SGW, 201-410-4563, firstname.lastname@example.orgAnne H. Gallagher, NJASA Director of Communications, 609-599-2900, ext. 126, email@example.com
Dr. Richard Bozza, executive director of the New Jersey Association of School Administrators, is available to discuss:
Why budgets need to be passed, especially this year
How a vote for the budgets is prudent for both those for and those against the governor’s recent actions on the state level
How chief education officers are making budget cut decisions
Schools Have Taken Three Deep Cuts from State;
Upcoming Budget Votes Can Deal Fourth Blow to Local Schools
TRENTON, N.J. – April 7, 2010 – School budgets have taken three hard and deep hits from the state, according the New Jersey Association of School Administrators. In response, school superintendents, Chief Education Officers and their school boards have worked quickly and diligently to create vastly pared-down budgets that will come up for a public vote on April 20. The NJASA encourages parents and taxpayers of all political persuasions to pass these budgets and to avoid a fourth devastating blow to school programs and New Jersey’s public school students.
“If this were baseball instead of budgets, the home teams would have already taken three strikes,” explains Dr. Richard Bozza, NJASA executive director. “We’re asking voters not to decimate these fragile budgets any more when budgets come to a vote in mid-April.”
In particular, those who support the governor’s recent deep cuts in state aid to local public schools may be tempted to vote against school budgets, considering a thumbs-down vote to be showing support for the governor. Instead, according to the NJASA, they would be voting counter to the governor’s intention to shift funding away from the state.
“To vote a budget down at this point would devastate lean plans already harshly trimmed because of the governor’s series of cuts to date. In effect, it would be a fourth hit severely limiting schools’ abilities to provide the type of public school education mandated by federal and state law and ultimately desired by parents for their children,” states Bozza.
Cuts Just Kept Coming
“We understand the governor’s need for a balanced budget,” Bozza states, “but the cuts just kept coming and haven’t ceased. It’s time for another sector to feel the pinch.” The three state cuts to date have been:
- An initial withdrawal of $475 million in state aid that had been promised to districts to support current 2009-2010 school programs
- The governor’s subsequent announcement that schools should use their mandated savings or surplus for next year’s programs to pay for this year’s curriculum, which is already in effect
- The governor’s belated announcement in mid-March about what schools could anticipate in funding for the coming 2010-11 school year, which for many districts removed 100% of any remaining state aid
Governor’s Announcement Left No Time to Plan
Normally a governor’s declaration of state allocations to schools is made early in the year. Due to the shift in administration, Governor Christie’s announcement of state funding levels was delayed until mid-March. It wasn’t until that point that districts knew how much money they had to work with in putting together a budget. This sent schools scrambling to draft budgets by early April in order to create the ballot for the scheduled April 20 vote.
“Although we appreciate the governor’s need for due diligence, it left most districts with no time to consider alternatives other than slashed programming,” Bozza commented. “The decisions have been painful, with superintendents meeting face-to-face with parents, teachers and community leaders to explain why favored programs and nontenured staff won’t be around next year even if bare-bones budgets pass.”
State Shifting Burden to Localities
State and federal laws require public school funding, but methodologies vary from state to state and by district within a state. In New Jersey, the commissioner of education has the responsibility for administering state laws for the 2,500 public schools serving New Jersey’s 1.38 million public school students. The board allocates state funds, but in a large majority of the cases, school funding is a local endeavor, supported by local taxes. Unlike municipal budgets, school budgets come before voters each year for an up or down vote. In most cases, the budget is passed, but local taxpayers increasingly are feeling tightly pinched.
Bozza notes the timing of the budget vote is unfortunate, coming only five days after federal and state tax returns are due. “No one likes to pay taxes, but the odds of passing a budget are clearly affected when the vote comes right on the heels of taxpayers sending in federal and state returns.”
According to Bozza, the timing of the vote is a key reason public school budgets get defeated. However, he encourages voters to pass their local budgets when they come up for a vote this year. Bozza says, “The state has effectively said to municipalities ‘It’s your problem, but make sure you still meet our mandated standards, and don’t use any of the money from state tax coffers.’ That leaves two alternatives – increased local property taxes or decreased school staff and programs.”
By law, when state funding is removed, a district has the right to request recompense through increased local taxes of up to 4% over set caps. Most districts, however, have stated that they will not attempt this and instead opted for deep program cuts in order to keep property tax levies as low as possible. Districts have given pink slips to large groups of nontenured teachers; have terminated administrative staff, including nursing and guidance personnel; and have eliminated many teaching support services.
According to the NJASA, both those who support the governor and those who don’t should now come together on behalf of the schools and pass the proposed budgets. “These schools – in both wealthy and poor districts – have taken huge hits,” he states. As an example, the Camden school district lost 5% of its budget, equaling $15 million in aid. On the other end of the spectrum, Ridgewood in North Jersey lost 100% of its state aid, or $800,000.”
“The tough decisions continue to be made on the local level,” Bozza notes. “The governor likes to say he made the tough decision to cut state aid, but the really tough calls on how to implement a radically reduced budget while maintaining educational integrity fall on the Chief Education Officer in each district,” Bozza adds.
“Regardless of district – urban or suburban – these are deep cuts. I don’t know any business owner who would want to face this level of cuts in such a short time and then have to find creative means to remain viable. Challenged as we are, we are committed to meeting state requirements and to providing quality education,” Bozza says.
New Series of Videos Explains Budget Considerations
Due to the complexity of budget decisions, the NJASA has released a series of videos to help parents and taxpayers better understand the issues and terminology being discussed. Three-minute videos are dedicated to explaining surplus funds, what parents can expect in the next school year, the human side of the budget cuts and the budget process. Each video can be accessed on a special NJASA YouTube channel at http://www.youtube.com/user/TheNJASAor by clicking on the YouTube icon on the NJASA web site, www.njasa.net.
The New Jersey Association of School Administrators is an organization of Chief Education Officers and school administrators who lead school districts in New Jersey’s 21 counties. The Association’s mission is to ensure a superior statewide system of education. Through ongoing professional training and education, the association shares knowledge among its members about best practices from both an educational and an administrative perspective. NJASA’s goal is to move education forward by ensuring the highest quality of instruction for all New Jersey’s children.
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