Friday, June 02, 2006

"Flat Budget" Means $14 Million In School Cuts

Faced with a state mandate to keep the 2006-07 school budget to this year’s level, the Plainfield school district cut more than $14 million to come up with a “flat budget.”

All the 31 Abbott districts had to freeze their budgets after Gov. Jon Corzine got state Supreme Court permission May 9 to order the move. The districts had to send the revised budgets to Trenton by Wednesday (May 31, 2006) and the Plainfield Board of Education held a special meeting Tuesday to vote on the cuts. The state Department of Education will review the changes and may approve them or disallow specific cuts if they are deemed harmful to the educational program.

School district spokesman Louis Rivera said the cuts included costs for travel and consultants, general supplies, savings due to retirements and elimination of the adult education program. He said Superintendent Paula Howard, Business Administrator Victor Demming and cabinet members met with officials at each of the district’s 13 schools to decide on the cuts.

Rivera said he wasn’t sure when the state would get back to the district, but he said officials hope it would be “sooner rather than later.” Once the state DOE has its say, the district will have to hold follow-up conversations at each school.

Sixteen of the Abbott districts asked for a clarification of the Supreme Court order, asking whether there was an expedited schedule for DOE determinations and appeals and whether new facilities for 2006-07 would be exempt from the flat-funded budget, among other questions. The Court responded that the DOE did not anticipate taking more than two weeks to respond, and that the state is committed to provide all funds necessary to bring the new facilities online. It dismissed the other questions as having already been addressed in the May 9 order.

See for the full text of the May 22 order.

The only new facility for 2006-07 in Plainfield is the Central Jersey Arts School, a charter school with an expected enrollment of 248 students in grades K-5 for September. Charter schools are public schools and Rivera said the district budget includes $2.64 million for the new one. It will be the city’s third charter school. A fourth one lost its charter a few years ago.

New board member Rasheed Abdul-Haqq said he voted ”no” on the cuts, because he did not receive the information in writing.

“I can say clearly I was not fully aware of precisely what the cuts were,” he said.

Abdul-Haqq added, “There’s something wrong if you can cut $14 million from what you said you needed.”

Several Abbott districts have been told to ask more from taxpayers for educational costs, though Plainfield is not one of them. But Abdul-Haqq expects the day may come when that will happen. The school tax levy has been fixed at about $18 million, while the overall budget has grown to about $140 million.

“It’s been $18 million as long as I can remember,” he said. “I don’t have a problem with paying more.”

State aid to Abbott districts, about $ 1 billion in the 2006 fiscal year, is meant to achieve parity in poor districts with per-pupil spending in wealthy districts. See http// for an Abbott overview.

The flat-budget mandate appears to signal increased scrutiny of the Abbott districts’ fiscal management.

Corzine’s statement after the May 9 ruling was, “We have a great deal of work ahead of us to ensure that all children across New Jersey receive a thorough and efficient education, and that public, local and school officials are accountable for the public funds they receive. Our focus will be to get resources to the children. We must meet their needs and prepare them for the challenges they face upon graduation. Only when that goal is met, and not a moment sooner, will we have achieved a victory.”

“This is serious stuff, and Plainfield, like a lot of other places, is going to have to figure out something new,” Abdul-Haqq said.

--Bernice Paglia


Post a Comment

<< Home