Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Budgets and the Schools
As a supervisor at the high school (I am the Director of Guidance) and a
resident, tax payer and one who had three children go through the school system
(one still at Watchung School), I can see both sides of many of the points in
the discussions that are going on. There has been a great deal of posturing and
polemics. What has been absent is some real discussion of the costs of all
things that are being discussed. There is no solution to the present crisis
that does not have enormous cost, to the functioning of the schools, the lives
of the teachers, the burdens on the tax payers. Every possible solution has
costs, from reducing administrative costs, to getting rid of programs, to
reducing teacher pay and/or benefits, to cutting staff.

Many may be happy that we are reducing administrative staff, both in the schools
and in central administrative. But many of these staff do things that we do not
consider "extras". There are things that need to be done, from administering
staff benefits, to organizing tests, preparing state and federal reports,
preparing budgets, taking care of purchasing, etc. All the things that need to
be done with an school system of this size. But much of what administrators do
is respond to the needs and concerns of the community, by responding to issues,
phone calls, e-mails, etc. Many of the programs that are run are organized and
run by central administration staff. Many of the responses to issues that come
from members of the community are from those who are support staff in various
administrative positions.

The same is true of staffing. Cutting staff will eventually result in larger
class size or cuts in programs and services. Cutting pay and benefits will
eventually lead to an inability to attract and retain quality staff.

It sounds fine to cut administrative staff to some, until there is no one
available to respond to your specific issue or complaint. Or it is okay to cut
programs, until that is the program that made a difference in your child's life.
Or it is okay to cut pay and benefits for staff, until that teacher who could
make a difference a your child's life leaves the profession or moves to another
district. Cuts in non-teaching staff sound fine, until there are fewer nurses,
librarians, counselors, department supervisors, classroom aids, etc. when you
really need one. I will be seeing my pay frozen (incidentally after choosing to
return to Montclair with an already significantly lower salary than I previously
had), I will lose staff in the department I run, I will be taking on many new
administrative responsibilities. My child's elementary class size has been 27
for each of the past two years, my real estate taxes will go up over $500 and I
expect fewer
resources and programs will be available.

We will all be asked to do more with less and will see many programs and
services sacrificed. But like you, I have chosen to live in Montclair and made
the important decision to work here as well. When I first took this job in
1991, I called someone who knew schools and town across the US and asked whether
I should take the job. His response was "Take the job. You will not find
another place like it." I thought that the grass would be greener elsewhere,
but its not. This is a special place with a character all its own. There is a
soul to this town that I just have not seen elsewhere. It is vital that we see
this as a shared burden and sacrifice. The financial crises was going to hit
all towns across the nation, as tax receipts and federal support fell. And now
it has. And it may last for a long time. It is necessary to realize that there
is not blame here, just circumstances and not solutions, but compromises and
costs. We as members of this
town need to be prepared to work together to do more with less and share the
increased cost and sacrifice of the horrible financial situation hitting our
nation, our state and our town.

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