Monthly Archives: April 2010

Middletown Schools In Investigation Mode

In a somewhat snarky recap of Wednesday nights Middletown Board of Education reorganization meeting, Dustin Racioppi of the redbankgreen.com, writes about how the school board has some more investigating to do before it can give answers to the public about services that will be effected once the Township Committee is finished with the review of the recently defeated school budget and make further cuts to it.

I think that until Superintendent Bilbao and the rest of the school board know exactly how much will be cut from the budget, it wouldn’t have been prudent to announce whether or not more teachers would be laid off, schools closed or after school programs eliminated. Many things are still up in the air and until a final number is issued by the Township Committee anything announced would be speculation:

The Middletown Board of Education could staff a detective bureau with all the investigating it’s doing and has ahead.

Investigating was the buzzword from the district Superintendent Karen Bilbao Wednesday night when pushed for details on where and how cuts would be made to the district’s $140.3 million budget, which was rejected by voters last week.

As in, will more teachers have to be laid off? She’s investigating.

Or, will there be redistricting, or school closings, as Bilbao has hinted at before?

“Closing a school or more than one school is one of the areas we said needed to be investigated,” Bilbao said.

“We are investigating a lot of things at this point.”

Read more >>> Here

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Filed under budget cuts, Middletown Board of Education, RedBankGreen.com, school budgets, School cuts, Superintendent Karen Bilbao

NJ Senators, Congressmen Call on Administration to Reverse Decision to Drill Along East Coast

In letter to President Obama, Menendez, Lautenberg, Pallone and Holt cite Gulf oil spill as most recent evidence of risk to shorelines

WASHINGTON – Today, New Jersey’s two U.S. Senators and two of the state’s Members of Congress called on the Obama administration to reverse its announced plans to open up the East Coast of the United States to oil drilling. In a letter to President Obama, Senators Robert Menendez (D-NJ) and Frank Lautenberg and Reps. Frank Pallone (NJ-6) and Rush Holt (NJ-12) said the current oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico is only the latest example of the real risk drilling poses to coastal communities and the economies they support. Under the administration’s plan, drilling along the coast of Virginia could occur within 100 miles of the Jersey Shore and, eventually, drilling along the coast of Delaware could occur within 10 miles of New Jersey.

“In the wake of the tragic accident, loss of life, and pollution in the Gulf of Mexico from the Deepwater Horizon oil rig, we are even more steadfastly opposed to any offshore drilling that could imperil the environment or economy of coastal New Jersey,” wrote the Members of Congress. “While we appreciate the White House’s announcement that no additional offshore drilling will be authorized until a full investigation of the accident is complete, we urge you to go further and reverse your decision on proposed new offshore oil and gas drilling for the outer continental shelf.

“The spill, and the conduct of companies like BP, raises serious concerns about expanding drilling to areas like the Atlantic seaboard. This catastrophe demonstrates exactly why no new drilling should proceed in any U.S. waters, and certainly not in the Atlantic. This incident exposes the many deficiencies in worker safety, blow out avoidance technology, and oil spill clean-up plans for operations in the outer continental shelf. We simply are not prepared to make our pristine Jersey shoreline the next test case for the oil companies’ experiment in how to maximize profits and minimize regulations.”

Read the PDF of the letter to President Obama >>> Here

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Filed under Atlantic seaboard, Congressman Frank Pallone, Congressman Rush Holt, Gulf of Mexico, Off shore oil drilling, President Obama, US. Sen. Frank Lautenberg, US. Sen. Robert Menendez

It’s Arbour Day

It’s Arbour Day – go plant a tree today and help save the environment but first enjoy the show.

For a little history behind Arbour Day click>>>Here

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Filed under Arbour Day, The Little Rascals

Middletown Township Still ‘Crunching The Numbers’ As Budget Gap Widens

Excellent article written by Ryan Fennell of the TRT, the kid reports it straight with no spin and consistantly reports on important aspects of the Township Committee meetings without having to resort to press releases issued after the meetings are over.

By Ryan Fennell
The Two River Times

MIDDLETOWN – While no specifics have been released regarding the 2010 budget, the Middletown Township Committee intimated on Monday night that layoffs were imminent in order to bridge the estimated $4 million shortfall in revenue.

The Middletown Township Committee entered this year facing an approximate $4 million shortfall, which Committeeman Sean Byrnes now estimates to be closer to $6 million, in revenue for the 2010 budget. Since that time the Committee has hired a new CFO and consistently pledged to the township’s residents that it was “looking at everything.”

“We are now almost three weeks into April and we know as a Committee that we have a significant shortfall in revenue this year,” Byrnes said. “The news is only getting worse and as of right now I don’t think we’ve really executed on any plans. Our ability to see any kind of savings is hampered by the fact that time is passing.”

Mayor Gerard Scharfenberger said that he has been in contact with Governor Chris Christie’s chief of staff and has been assured that legislation is being crafted that would ease the situation for the township.

“He assured me that the ‘mayor’s toolbox’, so to speak, that will allow us to absorb some of these cuts is still in the process of being formulated. We’re hoping this will provide some relief and extensive policy out of Trenton that will allow us to get back on track.” Middletown resident Jim Grenafege was not satisfied with the explanation and challenged the committee to offer concrete solutions or information regarding the budget. “Its just week after week there is nothing concrete happening,” Grenafege said.

He asked that the committee provide numbers associated with proposals that have been offered by the committee that could potential cut the budget.

“We have a relatively new CFO and he’s still crunching the numbers,” Scharfenberger said. “We can’t quantify anything that’s been proposed when I don’t have the numbers to quantify it against. These are sound proposals. There’s no sense speculating.”

Grenafege charged that the committee was speculating with the proposals. “They’re speculation with no numbers associated with it. It’s disingenuous to make these proposals without saying and here’s what we expect to save.”

Township Administrator Anthony Mercantante said that there are concrete things happening regarding the budget. “We’ve discussed a lot of options for saving money. A lot of them are painful. A lot of them are painful to individual people. It wouldn’t be fair to speculate publicly about some of the things happening.” Resident Jeff Blumengold asked why the committee hasn’t at least started cutting the “low hanging fruit.”

Scharfenberger noted that Middletown operates on a workforce of approximately 340 employees which costs the township $872 per person, a low figure for a municipality it’s size.

“There’s not a lot of low hanging fruit,” Scharfenberger said.

Scharfenberger also pointed out that the Township experienced 15 retirements since January and could see as many as 20 by year’s end. Scharfenberger said that these retirements have affected the budget and eliminated areas to cut.

“We had no idea that was going to happen,” Scharfenberger said of the retirements. However, the Committee had expected and even encouraged its employees to retire in May 2009.

On May 18, 2009 the Committee unanimously adopted an ordinance entitled “Early Retirement Incentive for Eligible Township Employees.”

The ordinance encourages employees eligible to retire under the Public Employee Retirement System (PERS) with the offer of health benefits upon retirement after 15 years of service with the township, lowered from 20 years of service.

According to the ordinance any employee who is eligible to retire who has 15 years of service shall have the entire cost of health benefits assumed by the Township of Middletown upon retirement. The ordinance has a “sunset provision” that sets December 31, 2010 as the expiration date.

“The process is the problem,” Byrnes said. “There is no process in place to get ahead of the things we’re talking about. We knew it was going to be bad. It’s very, very frustrating. I can’t fathom how we haven’t planned out for the problems we’re facing.”

“Now we will lay off people and those numbers are probably going to be bigger than they needed because we’re starting later than we should have,” Byrnes added.

“The silver lining in all the bad news we’ve been confronting is that people are starting to engage,” Byrnes said. “People seem to be paying more attention to what’s going on. That’s a good thing. Part of the problem of what we’re in now is people didn’t pay attention and that is the key to getting out of the very dire situation we find ourselves in.”

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Filed under budget cuts, Budget Shortfall, Gov. Chris Christie, Jim Grenafege, Mayor Scharfenberger, Middletown, Ryan Fennell, Sean F. Byrnes, Two River Times

Christie’s latest offensive against teachers may prompt mass exodus of NJ’s best

BY PAT SUMMERS
NEWJERSEYNEWSROOM.COM

With a state budget that focuses almost entirely on cutting spending rather than raising revenues, it’s no surprise that Governor Chris Christie has targeted publicly funded teachers and education — astutely transferring financial problems from the state to local municipalities.

As proven on April 20, he can persuade a majority of the voting public — a.k.a. the disgruntled property tax-paying public — to defeat school budgets in districts where teachers refused to accept a pay freeze. The incongruity of a governor acting against his own state education system and its students was obscured by the elections results: for the first time since 1976, the majority of New Jersey’s school budgets were voted down.

Talk about a “bully pulpit.” Or as a letter to the Times of Trenton had it, “in taking money from the needy and giving it to the greedy,” Christie is a “reverse Robin Hood.” And that’s one of the nicest names he’s been called lately.

Christie’s latest maneuver against teachers is his plan to reduce pension and health benefits. Next month, he’ll request the passage of bills (1) requiring those who retire after August 1 to pay more toward health benefits and (2) changing how pension benefits are calculated, resulting in a loss of income.

Obviously, Christie hopes that rather than continue teaching and accept the projected cuts, eligible veteran teachers may opt out this summer. (Those retiring by August 1 will get a free pass.)

Of course, if seasoned, master teachers are forced to retire early for this reason, the schools, and the students, will be the losers — only for starters.

Overall, according to a Star-Ledger analysis, 20 percent of the state’s certified teachers are qualified for retirement. Should this happen, the two Mercer County districts probably most in need of excellent veteran teachers — the city of Trenton and the Mercer County Special Services District — could lose the highest number of them. In Trenton, those eligible to retire represent about 31 percent of the total, while the Special Services District virtually tied, at 30 percent.

And it gets worse, both for New Jersey students and fledgling teachers in the faculty room. More than 42 percent of those with doctorates and 25 percent of those with master’s degrees would be eligible to retire.

Through this shortsighted approach, the old management axiom, “Trust the veterans,” could become obsolete by September. Sure, the ranks may be re-filled with younger teachers inexplicably willing to enter a profession where they’re insulted, devalued and threatened. But they’ll lack for the “voices of experience” new teachers have traditionally had on staff, and their road to master teacher status becomes much longer.

All that will make a difference very quickly. Everyone in a town loses when school funding is cut. Ultimately, students who are less well-educated can only contribute less to their communities. Possibly less likely to get or hold jobs, they could become additional drains on the already reeling economy.

Not only does Christie dismiss the incalculable value of teacher experience, but he’s also treating the state’s fiscal problem with woefully outdated — and discredited — management techniques of his own. He’s practicing top-down, power-over “Scientific Management” — whereby employees lose dignity and are treated like machines, with money as the incentive.

Our state’s fiscal problems are not unique in the country. But Christie’s answer — a focus on cutting spending — has put New Jersey into “a small peer group,” the New York Times reported last month. Florida, Louisiana, Minnesota, Mississippi, South Carolina, Texas and Virginia are all led by Republicans, a number with national aspirations.

As has been counter-argued on line and on the street, Christie’s selective about the groups he asks to sacrifice. He’s not calling on doctors, lawyers or bankers; nor is he asking millionaires to do their bit — which would be easy enough through re-enactment of the “millionaire’s tax,” which he insists won’t happen.

Finally, the ranks of those exempt from sacrifice also include the political appointees on Christie’s staff. Their salaries reportedly exceed the total for the same group under Governor Corzine.

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Filed under budget cuts, Gov. Chris Christie, New Jersey Newsroom, School Board elections, Teachers

NJPP Monday Minute 4/26/10:Healthcare, transit and EITC cuts hurt working families

Gov. Christie’s FY 2011 budget proposes $400 million in cuts to programs that provide critical support to low and moderate income families. When unemployment is close to 10 percent and nearly 450,000 people are without jobs, pulling the rug out from under working families is the last thing one would expect.

New Jersey has long recognized that struggling working families need support if they are to work in a state with one of the highest costs of living in the nation. In the long run, affordable health coverage, mass transit and the benefits of the Earned Income Tax Credit avoid more costly alternatives like welfare, homelessness and charity care at hospitals. These alternatives are bad for families, bad for business and ultimately bad for the economy.

Here are three examples of these bad choices.

FamilyCare – $100 million cut

New Jersey’s FamilyCare program provides affordable health coverage for kids and certain low income parents or guardians. It is for families who do not have employer insurance and cannot afford to pay the high cost of private health insurance which costs between $6,000 and $12,000 per parent. To save money, the state has made the following program changes:

  • FamilyCare coverage is no longer available to parents whose income is greater than $23,352 for a family of three. In FY 2011, approximately 39,000 parents will be denied coverage, regardless of their medical needs. NJPP’s research shows that when enrollment is closed to parents, fewer children are enrolled. Closing the door to so many parents makes no fiscal sense. In FY 2011, the state would save $24.6 million but lose about $46 million in federal matching funds.
  • Enrolled parents who lose coverage because they can’t pay the premiums (which will be raised) or who do not renew their coverage will no longer be able to reenroll in the program if their income exceeds $23,352.
  • About 11,700 legal immigrant parents in this country for less than five years lost their FamilyCare coverage based on an Executive Order issued by the governor that bypassed the Legislature. Under threat of a lawsuit, the Christie administration extended coverage for three months, after which parents will permanently lose their coverage, saving $30 million in the FY 2011 budget.

New Jersey Transit – $300 million cut

Getting to work is an essential part of having a job and in New Jersey about 10 percent of all workers use mass transit. At a time now when families can least afford to pay higher transit fares, the funding cuts have forced NJ Transit to increase fares by an average of 22 percent, affecting almost a million New Jerseyans who commute to work on buses and trains. This is the second highest NJ Transit fare increase in history (averaging a $1,000 annually for a train pass).

But according to Gov. Christie these fare increases are preferable to raising the cost for people who drive. For example, the daily round trip fare between New Brunswick and Trenton will increase to $17.00 per day from its current fare of $11.75. Driving will become a cheaper option than using mass transit – IF they can afford it. Either way this will be a huge hit for working people.

NJ Transit estimates it likely will lose another five percent of its riders on top of the four percent it lost last year. All of these decisions, of course, contribute to the downward spiral in transit revenue and add 4,800 pounds of pollution to the air for every commuter who decides to take a car to work.

The fare increase hurts everyone, but it will be hardest on lower income families, the elderly, people with disabilities and college students. Using mass transit will be a greater burden for them because many have no alternative to public transportation-another barrier to work and education, another barrier to independent living.

At the same time the governor slashes transit funding, he has steadfastly refused to consider a gas tax increase, saying it will harm the economy. But gas prices in New Jersey are low relative to most places in the country, largely because New Jersey has the nation’s third lowest gas tax which has not been increased since 1988. This is yet another example of the administration’s unbalanced approach to the budget. Cuts in transit service and fare increases amount to taxes on those who use those services. User fees are acceptable as long as people have alternatives and that’s exactly the problem-many people have no alternative but to use public transportation.

State EITC – $45 million cut

The Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) is a federal and state credit for people who work but have low wages. Recognizing that New Jersey is an expensive place to live, the New Jersey credit is calculated at 25 percent of the federal EITC. About 485,000 households received this state credit last year. The governor’s budget would reduce that to 20 percent of the federal EITC. This would mean that a family of four with one parent working full time at the minimum wage ($15,000 a year) would lose $251 next year.

The state and federal EITCs are one of the most effective ways to encourage work, prevent families from becoming dependent on welfare and reduce the number of children in poverty. In fact, some of the welfare savings are still being used to fund the state EITC.

New Jersey’s economy is dependent on a diverse workforce, and it is in the state’s best interest to help make it easier for families to continue to work and contribute to an economic revival. Placing more burdens on low and moderate income workers during a recession is not the way to do it, but that is precisely what Gov. Christie’s budget will do.

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Filed under budget cuts, Gov. Chris Christie, Monday Minute, New Jersey Policy Perspective, NJ FamilyCare, NJ Transit

It’s Your Town Newsletter Volumn 2, Issue 8 For 4/19/10

Middletown, It’s your Town Hall Newsletter is now available for reading.

This latest edition covers the Township Committee meeting that took place on Monday, April 19.

There area resolutions attached to the newsletter that includes the bill list for the period of March and April, which makes this edition of the newsletter rather lengthy, it consists of about 100 pages.

See what the Township is spending YOUR money on instead of cutting costs while preparing a municipal budget that has a ~$5M deficit and calls for the layoff of 40 township employees.

Read the Newsletter >>>> Here

If you would like to subscribe to the newsletter and have it sent to your email, you can be placed on a mailing list by send your request to itsourtown@yahoo.com

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Filed under bill list, Budget, budget planning, Its Your Town, Middletown, Newsletter