Bettering Plainfield with the facts since 2005

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

(Board of Ed) Frightened Wilma Campbell introduces BOE budget

About 75 teachers and a sprinkling of the public,
as well as candidates Anderson, Hurtt and Pile,
attending the budget introduction meeting.

Rumors were rife Tuesday afternoon that Plainfield
Board of Ed President Wilma Campbell had lost her nerve and was sandbagging the board in the PHS Conference Room while planning to introduce the proposed 2016 budget by videoconference while the public sat separately in the PHS Auditorium.

As it turns out that was not the case, though when I arrived at 8:15 PM at the auditorium, staff technicians were just setting up the sound system for the meeting -- which did not get under way until about 8:45 PM -- despite the agenda's 8:00 PM start time (this has been SOP under Campbell's leadership of the board for years now).

At least three school board candidates -- Lynn Anderson, Dorien Hurtt and Carmencita Pile -- joined about 75 teachers and a sprinkling of community members for the meeting, the key item of which was the budget presentation.

Two budget items were included in the 43-page agenda for the work/study session -- logging in as pages 39 and 40.

The resolution on page 39, evidently taking up budget transfers for the balance of the current school year was purposely left blank,with the notation that it would be presented at the March 15 business meeting (mark your calendars!).

On page 40 was the 2016-17 (FY2017) budget proposal -- again with the dollar amounts left blank in the agenda posted online. A separate handout was provided just before the meeting started with the proposed amounts filled in.

Members of the audience suggested that the placement on the agenda was designed to postpone the budget discussion until so late in the meeting that members of the public may have gone home. If that was the intent, it fizzled as the audience sat through the routine business until the budget was discussed.

(How different all of this is from the days when Dr. Larry Leverett was suprintendent! Back then, the budget items were put up front in the agenda and numbers were provded ahead of time. Leverett was fearless about discussing difficult matters with the public -- a fearlessness that paid off when Plainfield was the only district in the state to bass a bond referendum when the Washington Community School was built.)

At the time members of the Plainfield Education Association (which represents teachers, aides and support staff) met last week, the budget shortfall was said to be in the $11 million range -- which would have to be met either by increased taxes on Plainfield ratepayers or reduced staffing and services for the district.

A PowerPoint presentation laid heavy stress on relatively flat funding by the state and a scary chart projecting an approximately 50% growth in payments to the city's charter schools out to 2018/19 -- even though at the moment we are only dealing with the upcoming 2016/17 year. (The apparent lack of a plan by the District to make its schools more attractive to parents than the charters is quite evident.)

So, how is Wilma Campbell proposing to deal with the shortfall?

The presentation offered some tiny nibbles of cuts and some huge slashes.

Here's the gist of the smaller items --
  • 10% supplies reduction (including textbooks)  - $225,000
  • Retirements and keeping some jobs unfilled - $200,000
  • Reduce usage of substitute teachers - $125,000
  • Reducing contracted services (lawyers?) - $285,000
  • Reducing "scope" of summer school (eliminating?) - $125,000
These cuts generate a $960,000 savings.

An item to "restructure" the Barack Obama Academy, the district's alternative high school, would generate $600,000 in savings. This is scary because these are the students most in need of focused assistance and most in danger of being lost to the streets.

Then we move on to the really scary numbers --
  • Teacher and support staff layoffs - $2,325,000
  • Reducing health benefits - $1,500,000
Union sources are estimating the proposal will amount to about one hundred teachers and support staff losing their jobs, putting pressure on class sizes, instructional quality and delivery of already thin services to the students.

The detailed budget proposal must be available for public inspecton at the board's offices at 1200 Myrtle Avenue now that the proposal has been made public.

A public hearing on the budget will be held Tuesday, March 29, after which the Board of Ed must adopt the proposal for review by the County Superintendent and the presentation to the voters for approval -- or rejection -- at the April 19 school board elections.

A final sign of Ms. Campbell's nervous tummy appears to be a walk-on resolution presented by board member David Rutherford (I had left the meeting by this time), granting the district permission to hire an attorney (at $150/hour) to ensure that Ms. Campbell is not unfairly attacked by yours truly over the specter of a purchasing fraud scandal raised by the Star-Ledger (see my post here, and the Ledger story here).

Game on!

  -- Dan Damon [follow]

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