The School Budget – What’s Next – Part II
It has been 20 days since the people of Englewood voted 1,592 to 972 to have the City re-formulate the School Budget. The last time a School Budget was defeated in 2003 the margin was a close one and the City Council at that time reinstated the School Budget, unchanged. This time is different. We have time to pause and revisit the School Budget to better set priorities that will directly benefit our school children and make each dollar count.
I am pleased to report that we have rapidly moved forward with the process mandated by State law and the rules and regulations of the Department of Education. As many of you will recall from my previous posting there is a defined, logical and step by step process by which a defeated school budget is reconciled by the Municipal governing body.
Now is the time responsible officials must ask themselves:
- Why was the School Budget defeated this year?
- Why was the School Budget defeated by such large margins
- Give the facts of the first two questions, how can we best serve Englewood’s citizens and our school children?
We are in economic conditions not experienced since the Great Depression. The State has made significant cuts in school aid as part of its own budget adjustment process. Families, states and municipalities have all been forced to readjust their priorities to maintain themselves until a stable recovery occurs. Many people have lost jobs and lost income, yet still must pay the rising costs of their household and basic living expenses. Times are hard and few are immune to this economic downturn.
Citizens who voted against the budget voted for change during hard times. Their vote was not against education. It was to refocus our attention on the task of better adjusting priorities for everyone, including our children. We are one community and now is the time to join together to do just that – to meet the challenges of the times. This is a vast opportunity for us. Those of us entrusted with this responsibility need to focus on working together, prioritizing the students’ classroom education.
We have presently entered what is called the consultation phase of the process, where the Mayor and Council consult with the Board of Education on the budget.
The first step of this process is to evaluate what is called the defeated budget packet. I described the contents and details of this packet in my last post. The school administration delivered the defeated budget packet as required by State Law prior to April 29th. This allows the Mayor, Council and the Board of Education to move forward.
The City Council voted to form a Budget subcommittee which will do the detailed work on the budget, in consultation with the Board of Education Budget Committee. This subcommittee will report to the Council as a whole. The Budget subcommittee consists of Councilman Ken Rosenzweig, Councilwoman Lynne Algrant and me. Our work will be supported by an outside expert in school budgeting and administration. Hence, we have access to additional expertise and experience that will help us maximize the resources we have available. Our budget subcommittee will be further supported by the City Manager and the Deputy City Manager.
The Board of Education’s Budget Committee is made up of four of its members – George Garrison-School Board President, Henry Pruitt- School Board Vice President, Stephen Brown and Glenn Garrison – Board of Education members. This committee will be joined Dr. Richard Segall-Superintendent and James Olobardi-Business Administrator.
The work of the combined Budget committees will not be easy. Over the past week, I have been extensively involved in reviewing budget documents and requesting additional information for the Budget Committee. The Budget Committee, Dr. Segall and Mr. Olobardi are working with us to present the numerous documents quickly. Councilpersons Rosenzwieg and Alrgrant, our budget team and I, are now analyzing the budget with a great deal of detail and precision.
It is our goal for the City and BOE budget committees to endorse one budget for adoption by the Board of Education, joined by the City, before the May 19th deadline. This may be achieved provided both committees work towards this common goal to demonstrate to each resident and student that we are one community. We will work together to deal with budget constraints in a way that directly benefits students in the classroom and protects strapped taxpayers.
The law is quite clear with respect to this process. The governing body sets the school tax levy by the May 19th deadline, however, they may not make line by line adjustments to the budget.
That being said, the law is also clear that the consultation phase we are in was envisioned as a time when specific line items would be discussed between the BOE and the governing body in order to arrive at a prudent final levy number. After all, there are so many regulations and mandates that control the school budget, the governing body would have to consider line items. A straight levy cut without this consideration would be recklessly disconnected from reality.
I remain confident that the outcome of this difficult process will be a School Budget endorsed by the Council, the Board of Education and me – your Mayor.
As many of you know, it has been my belief from the beginning that the defeat of this budget is an opportunity to improve things. If officials approach the process with all eyes on the greater goal — a win-win for Englewood students and citizens – we can preserve and even enhance educational resources for our children from the School Budget defeated by the voters.
I’m looking forward to working with Councilman Rosenzweig and Councilwoman Algrant, the school board budget committee members and Dr. Segall on the new budget. I am hoping that after the first of these meetings we will have agreed on several goals that we can deliver on by May 19th deadline.
It is my goal to build your confidence by helping to find the common ground we share. It is your Mayor’s intention to have a new budget that does that by doing right by our deserving students and our taxpayers.
Englewood has the good will and good sense to do it!
I will keep you informed as our meetings progress.
Mayor Frank Huttle III