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Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Bd of Ed between rock and hard place tonight

The Courier muddied the school district's budget picture with a story this past Saturday (see here), that pegged the Plainfield district's increased funding thusly --
"The largest increases in fiscal 2008-09 went to the Abbott districts of New Brunswick, Perth Amboy and Plainfield. ... Plainfield received $113,777,516, an increase of $13.8 million."
Those who thought Plainfield only got a 2% increase, as previously reported, had reason to wonder what was going on.

The answer is: smoke and mirrors.

The numbers the state released which formed the basis of the Courier's story COMBINED items that previously had been broken out in several lines -- including the cost of funding the state-mandated publicly funded universal preschool in Abbott districts.

The bottom line is that the so-called funding 'increase' is illusory.

Not only that, the state-mandated 4% school tax increase, which will amount to $707,000 for the 2008-09 budget year, will barely cover the annual increases in salaries and benefits.

In her full coverage of last week's meeting, Bernice summarized the difficulties facing the district, which is looking at a shortfall of $5 million -- which means cuts that will impact students directly. (See her complete report here.)

While there is supposed to be approximately $700,000 available to the Board to shift the impacts, it seems that there is one more shoe to drop: Charter school funding.

Though privately operated, charter schools are funded out of school board budgets -- at approximately $10,000 per student. With three charter schools operating in Plainfield, and enrollments increasing each year as a higher grade level is added, the total number of charter school students is going in only one direction -- up.

Once this mandatory funding is accounted for, there may be little or nothing left for the district for 'wiggle room', leaving the worst-case scenario as the only one available.

In all of this, Assemblyman Jerry Green has played a less than edifying role.

At the Board of Ed meeting two weeks ago, he took the floor to say publicly that if he had known the difficulties the new school funding formula were creating, he would not have voted for it.

This is disingenuous, to say the least.

Many people were watching the Assemblyman as the vote approached -- I had several posts on it, including these --
"Watch out for Jerry Green's sellout Monday" and "Assemblyman Green votes to dismantle Abbott districts".

But perhaps more damning is evidence Jerry himself gives.

The session where the vote was taken was taped and is archived here (you want the 1/07/08 item). The school funding formula portion begins at marker 03:46:42. At marker 04:01:00, Assemblyman Green makes his statement, implying -- though not saying so directly -- that he had the support of the Plainfield BOE. It seems that he never consulted with the Board before his vote.

Anyone with a brain who was paying attention to this debate and vote, and this INCLUDES the Assemblyman, knew the outcome for the Abbott districts -- including Plainfield -- was going to be disastrous.

The tentative budget will be discussed at tonight's business meeting. The budget will be up for approval by the voters at the April 15 elections.

The Board of Education meets tonight at 7:00 PM in the Plainfield HS Library, 950 Park Avenue. Parking is available in the Stelle and Kenyon Avenue lots.

-- Dan Damon

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