Englewood cuts $1.6 million from school budget

20 May 2010 92 views No Comment

From The Record:

ENGLEWOOD — The City Council agreed to cut $1.6 million from the tax levy portion of the school budget this week, nearly a month after voters rejected the plan at the polls.

The council unanimously passed a resolution Tuesday night that calls for a $46.4 million tax levy, down from the original $48.1 million proposed by the Board of Education.

The new plan, reformulated by the council’s subcommittee consisting of Mayor Frank Huttle, Councilman Ken Rosenzweig and Councilwoman Lynne Algrant, restores nearly everything related to classroom instruction and does not call for any teacher layoffs. Joe Kelly, a certified public accountant, was hired as a consultant to the subcommittee and was paid $4,500, City Attorney William Bailey said Tuesday.

Huttle said the subcommittee spent several late nights working with school board members and carefully examining the budget to ensure that the majority of the money would go directly into the classroom.

That meant putting capital projects, such as new central offices for the administration and a new location for the alternative high school — both are now housed at the Liberty School — on the back burner.

“At this time, capital projects should be voted on by referendum,” Huttle said, calling the new plan a “win-win for students and teachers.”

“When things are tough, we have to work harder and differently. … We have reinstated instructional staff and there will be no increase in class sizes,” he said.

Huttle’s remarks drew applause from many in the packed meeting — a stark contrast from a public meeting two weeks before, when some audience members criticized the mayor for urging voters to defeat the budget a few days before the election.

Anita Shemesh, co-president of the Englewood Teachers Association, was one of more than a dozen teachers who wore a T-shirt reading “Year 2, no contract” to the meeting. She thanked Huttle and the council for making classroom instruction the priority, but said morale in the district had been low since June 2008, when the teachers’ contracts expired.

Huttle said the contract issue was in the school board’s hands, and was not discussed by the subcommittee. Barring a settlement in the next few months, teachers will be entering their third year without a contract.

The city’s plan will be put to a vote tonight by the Board of Education at a special 7:30 p.m. meeting at Grieco Elementary School. The board, which formed its own subcommittee to work with the City Council on the budget, will vote on whether to accept the new tax levy. If members accept it, any decisions on how they will spend the money will take place next week.

Longtime resident Laura Vogel said she was impressed by the committee’s efforts and wanted to set the record straight about why she voted against the budget.

“When the budget failed, people were saying that those who voted for the budget were pro-teachers and those who voted against it were anti-education or didn’t have children in the schools,” Vogel said.

“There are a lot of people on my street who have children in the schools, but voted against it, and it had nothing to do with the teachers. … It was because of the tax increase, which we just can’t take.”

Councilman Jack Drakeford, who supported the plan, said council members shouldn’t celebrate just yet.

“We can tell you how much money we’ve given you, but we can’t tell you how to spend it, so nothing is guaranteed right now,” Drakeford said. “We’ll have to wait and see what the Board of Education does.”

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