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Board of Education budget; candidate deadline approaches

Posted by edison1205 on February 20, 2010

Monday promises to be an interesting school board meeting as the Board considers a preliminary budget for next school year and decides whether to seek voter approval a second time on the $137 million renovation referendum that failed last month  by a 2-1 margin.  Looking at this document, the budget is on page 17 and the referendum is on pages 18-20.

Analysis: Next Year’s Budget

The current year budget is $203.009 million including debt service.  The preliminary budget calls for a total budget of $214.173 million including debt service, an increase of 5.5 percent.

In addition, the current year budget raises $177.369 million from local taxes, whereas the proposed preliminary budget raises $186.262 million from local property taxation, an increase of 5 percent.  (Note: this does not mean that the school taxes will necessarily go up 5 percent, this is just a calculation of the school budget total actually raised from property taxes).

The budget has some numbers in it that we consider mystifying.  The Governor warned earlier this week that “districts should prepare for a 15-percent cut in state aid next school year.”

We know that Edison expects $22.135 million in state aid from all sources for the current 2009-10 school year.  This will be reduced by $118,000 if the Governor’s executive order freezing school funds is upheld by the courts.

However, the tentative budget for next year anticipates $23.543 million in state aid from all sources!  That is a 6 percent increase made just after the Governor said to expect a 15 percent decrease.  Unless we have really goofed in our addition of the figures in the public documents cited above, this seems nonsensical and we hope the Board is questioned on this point at Monday’s meeting.  This may simply be the first move in an eventual game of ‘blame the State.’  In other words, it may be easier politically to stay away from rational planning now and blame the State for additional layoffs, additional tax increases, or the like.

It’s going to be interesting to see whether the three board members whose terms are up in April — Susan Scerbo, Ralph Errico and Rosemary Meade — vote for or against this preliminary budget.

Analysis: Referendum Redux

The Board will also decide whether to ask the voters to approve a $137.1 million referendum for school renovation and expansion.  This was the same question that the voters overwhelmingly defeated in January by a margin of 2,460-4,987 (which is 33%-67%).

On the one hand, I am glad to see the Board will be putting this question to the people at a regularly-scheduled school election.  This means there will be no additional costs to the taxpayers like the $50,000 we spent on the special election.  However, the educators on the Board and in the administration do not seem to have learned the two lessons the voters taught them last time: first, we need a less ambitious project that costs less; and second, that we need real guarantees from the State that the “State Aid” portion of the debt is secured by a binding guarantee that cannot be revoked and that is enforceable in Court.  I see no evidence that this guarantee has been issued.

I don’t think the Board has any illusions about whether this vote will pass: clearly, it will not.  But when voters reject an identical referendum twice, the Board can appeal to State Acting Education Commissioner Bret Schundler to override the voters.  In other words, all the Board can really expect from the vote is that will have the right to appeal to the State.

Who will support this?  In particular, will the three board members whose terms are up in April — Susan Scerbo, Ralph Errico and Rosemary Meade — vote for or against this effort?

Urgent reminder: School Board Petitions

If you want to run for School Board, you have to file your petitions by 4pm on March 1.  Here is the candidate packet.

I hope that this year there will not be tons of candidates running out of vanity.  There need to be two competing slates: the status quo, and the reformers.  If there are 8, 10, or more ‘reformer’ candidates, the only thing that will happen is that the vote will be split.  If the candidates’ real goal is reform and not ego-stroking, the reformers need to agree on a diverse slate of 3 and only 3 candidates to run as the reformers.


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