The needler in the haystack.

Friday, December 10, 2010

School budget community meeting sheds light



Acting Plainfield schools superintendent Anna Belin-Pyles hosted a community meeting on the school budget process at the BOE administration building on Myrtle Avenue last night.

Business administrator Gary Ottman presented an overview of the budget process and both the challenges and opportunities facing the District for FY2012. (While there were more than enough handouts for attendees, I am hopeful the complete PowerPoint presentation will be put online for the community to view.)

As a small group gathered to begin (
Belin-Pyles, Ottman, board members Wilma Campbell and Renata Hernandez, the Courier's Mark Spivey, several District staff members and myself), it was a relaxed atmosphere and remained so throughout the evening as, eventually some more staffers and a few parents arrived, as well as board member Pat Barksdale and fellow blogger Maria Pellum.

This was NOT a workshop on the actual budget, but an overview of the BUDGET PROCESS, and it was helpful in several regards.

We learned that the process itself is actually already under way: Principals and District administrators are already at work on their budget proposals, which will be consolidated and presented as a rough working budget by Belin-Pyles to the Board of Ed in January.

The budget process calendar is already laid out --

  • on March 17 the District learns what the state aid figure will be for FY2012;
  • JUST FOUR DAYS LATER, on March 21, the proposed budget is due in the County Superintendent's office;
  • and on March 29, a public hearing must be held;
  • the voters then cast an up or down vote on the budget at the School Board election, which in 2011 is on WEDNESDAY, April 27 (yes, Wednesday).
Ottman noted that though the budget projected for FY2012 is flat at $145 million, structural increases over which the District has no control (salary raises, benefits, and health increases -- that are expected to come in at around 10%) and the pressures on the expected state aid generated by the state's difficult fiscal position make the budget preparation a stressful and fraught exercise.

Secondly, the District is facing the runout of President Obama's 'stimulus' (ARRA) funding next year. This funding has been used nationwide to underwrite the continuation of teaching positions.

As if all this were not enough, the situation is made more complicated by allocations which must be made out of the District's funding for the city's charter schools -- of which there may be yet one more on the horizon.

While the District must therefore try to DO MORE with FLAT STATE AID, the portion of the budget which must be made up by locally raised taxes will increase. This is a requirement of the new school funding law championed by Plainfield's Assemblyman Jerry Green.

This means that the challenging times for both the District AND Plainfield taxpayers will continue at least for the next fiscal year, no matter what changes are ironed out between our Republican governor Christie and the Democratic-controlled Legislature.

I was disappointed at the show of interest on the part of the public, but it must be said that if it weren't for Maria blogging about it, I doubt I would even have known the workshop was scheduled. While the flyer was posted on Renata's blog, that was during the day of, and after I had checked all the blogs for the CLIPS posting. No use that I can detect was made of the Courier's new microsite, on which the District could have published a notice of its own devising for free.

Somehow the District must find the will to better get the word out for events such as these, which are so useful to the public. Just having a passing notice on the District website is obviously not enough to do the trick.

Unless, of course, the District is not interested in public participation.

P.S. The one question I thought of after I got home was how the settlement for former Superintendent Steve Gallon will impact the budget.


(Apologies for the late post, we have had a power outage on the West End for some time this morning. --DD)



-- Dan Damon [follow]

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6 comments:

RASRAHMATAZ said...

Although this was a PUBLIC meeting there was a concentration of representatives from each of the schools that was targeted, ergo the 14 tables set-up, soup and sandwiches. Information went directly to the school administrators. Info was to be posted on the school marquee as well as flyers sent home with the students. A level of school-base encouragement to attend was the thrust. The purpose was to have direct dialog with parent, teachers and administrators regarding their schools' needs against the overall buget process. It was on the district web site for weeks. So although I'm glad you saw and came -- the goal was not to attract mass community but rather targeted parent groups from each of the schools. No matter what -- however -- the attempt failed; it is unfortunate on too many level to enumerate here.

Renata

Anonymous said...

First, to get the parents, there should have been some talk about cutting baseball/football. Sports, not education, always brings out the parents. A bit priority challenged in my book.

Second - to have more money in education, did anyone think of asking the head of the NJEA to take a cut in his $500,000 salary, and his assistant to cut her $250,000?

Oh of course, I forgot, it's all about the children.

Anonymous said...

Will the district consider cutting the FULL TIME release of the PEA president?

Plainfield is one of the ONLY districts that pay for the FULL TIME RELEASE of the union president.

How will that affect the budget? This could be one teacher teaching students in a failing district.

Maria Pellum, Plainfield Resident said...

Dan,

Thanks for the post, I missed the budget portion and really was looking forward to hear what the district had to say. The lack of attendance is a good indication of how ripe the district is to start exploring new ways to communicate with parents, and if administrators were in charge of promoting the event to their building parents, then I too can feel Renata's pain when it comes to describing the attempt as failed. But, looking at the glass half-full, the low turn out is also a good opportunity to explore how things can continue to change for the better. Rome wasn't built in one day! Anyway, thanks again Dan for covering the meeting!

Rob said...

To anonymous...In a nutshell..I think the NJEA is quite possibly one of the most stupidly run ( or at least they pay the PR people to purposely sabotage their own organization with the stupid things that they say and support ), BUT...and that's one HUGE but, the "head" of the NJEA is Barbara K ( a woman ) and her salary comes from teacher's paychecks dues...NOT the taxpayers of NJ. The NJEA is many things including their own worst enemy, but they are most definitely NOT taxpayer funded. Get your facts straight before you hate.

Anonymous said...

Plainfield will have budgeting- and tax rate- difficulties for years to come, between a BOE that is unwilling to control salaries and benefit, the largest part of the budget, and the state's slow defunding of our school district (courtesy of our state representatives.)

Meanwhile, the children go without textbooks to use, mark-up, and take home. Is one take-home textbook per grade level out of 5 classes the norm? Children, in order to learn thoroughly, need to have their own books or manuals more than teachers and administrators earning an extra three or four thousand. Worked in earlier generations.