At last week’s March 4th “Community Forum on State Aid Cuts” held by the Middeltown Board of Education, School Board President Laura Agin read the following statement. The statement was frank, to the point and said exactly what many need to say and what others need to hear:
“On behalf of the Middletown Board of Education, I would like to tell you all: We Get It. We understand New Jersey’s fiscal crisis. We realize the state is running out of money and we appreciate our governor’s need to fill a multi-billion dollar budget gap. We know that no part of the public sector has been left untouched and we accept that school aid needed to be appropriated to assist in solving the state’s budget shortfalls. Middletown gave; we gave $2.8 million.
We strive for efficiency. Our budgets are developed including all of our stakeholders. We involve Parent Information Groups and Ad Hoc Committees. We have passed seven of our last eight budgets by educating our community and fostering an understanding of the efficiencies in our district. We have remained well below the 4% state mandated budget cap each of these budget years despite ever decreasing state aid to Middletown. We have diligently maintained a fund balance through prudent budget management, as required by law. We have absorbed unfunded state mandates while maintaining the integrity and quality of other programs and services.
We have continued to build on these efficiencies by improving the way we deliver instruction. We have developed programs to keep students in district thereby reducing costly out of district tuitions. We have decreased our need for support staff by introducing best practice instructional models in our elementary and middle schools. We have made strategic reductions in order to modernize our district without adding to the overall budget. We implemented full day kindergarten with no cost to the community by restructuring teaching assignments.
We’ve tackled tough issues. Negotiations with our bargaining units have consistently yielded positive results for our district. We have achieved cost savings by increasing health care co-pays and eliminating traditional insurance plans for employees. We have negotiated caps for accrued sick and vacation time. Recent negotiations with our Administrators Association yielded the lowest cost increase in the county, maybe the state.
We have heard that’s not enough. We understand there should be parity between the real world and the public sector. Our economy demands it, our community now expects it. But Middletown cannot achieve this in isolation. Past Middletown boards have tried to rein in contracts with dire, long-term consequences to the district. We cannot and will not do that again.
But make no mistake. The leadership in this district is willing to continue to make tough choices. We will support legislative reform designed to provide the tools we need to further reduce costs. We will continue to work with our township to increase shared services and inter-local agreements.
We recognize and fully understand New Jersey’s fiscal crisis. Though begrudgingly, we accept that our fund balance, our budgeted tax relief, our $2.8 million, funded primarily by taxpayers in this district, has been appropriated by the state to plug the state budget hole. You will hear Mrs. Bilbao outline cost reduction measures to be implemented for the coming year to account for this loss of funds.
But now we truly believe we have paid our share. The portion of our state aid has been a mere 16% of our total revenue despite a state average of 41%. Our towns are measured by the quality of our educational programs. We will not be able to sustain our momentum or continue to deliver quality instruction with further reductions in our state revenue. Our taxpayers should not be asked to pay a larger portion again. We implore our representatives and our governor to maintain our current level of aid going forward.”