NJ School Budgets Take It on the Chin; Now Comes the Hard Part

By Brian Thompson
|  Wednesday, Apr 21, 2010  |  Updated 5:01 PM EDT
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NJ School Budgets Take It on the Chin; Now Comes the Hard Part

AP

Mayoral control or not, the NYCLU is demanding more transparency and accountability in New York City public education.

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Not since they started keeping records back in 1956 has the New Jersey School Boards Association reported so many rejected school budgets.

"I'm afraid for education," said Cielo Rudea, a parent in Teaneck, after voters there Tuesday shot down their school budget by more than a thousand votes out of a little more than 8 thousand cast.

"Everyone else is tightening their belts during these very difficult economic times," countered Eliezer Rubin who voted against the Teaneck budget that called for a nearly 8% tax hike.

Out of 537 budgets on the ballot across the Garden State, only 41.3% got a "yes" vote. All the rest were rejected, though some by a margin of just five or ten votes.

For those nearly 59% of communities where the school budget went down, it will be up to their town, city and borough councils to decide how much, if any, should be cut from the proposed budget.

"Think it's a little premature, the only thing I can say is that last year we cut a million dollars," said Teaneck Mayor Kevie Feit about what his council will have to do over the next three weeks.

Feit did say, however, his council is bound by the state constitution not to affect "a thorough and efficient education."

School Board President Dr. Henry Pruitt admitted he had "no idea" what can be cut.

"If we were gonna cut something we would have cut it out before we proposed the budget(to the people) like that," Dr. Pruitt said.

He added "We're not irresponsible, we were responsible and we were trying to hold onto the best things Teaneck has to offer."

Taxes on an average home in Teaneck would have gone up $466 a year under the rejected budget. But Teaneck, like virtually every other one of New Jersey's 600-plus school districts was caught in an economic storm beyond its control.

It started with last year's budget when annual state aid in the midst of The Great Recession was continued only because of federal stimulus money.

That aid was gone this year and the projected state budget started off with an 11 billion dollar hole. Then, Governor Chris Christie changed the funding formula for the money the state did scrape together so at the last minute school districts such as Teaneck found out they were losing more than they expected--millions more.

Throw in the Governor's battle with the NJEA teachers' union over taking a one year salary freeze, ever-escalating property taxes in the state with the highest property taxes in the nation, and for many school budgets, pundits are saying the results should come as no surprise.

"Local boards of education did their best with the hand they were dealt," said Marie Bilik, executive director of the School Boards Association.

Follow Brian Thompson on Twitter @brian4NY

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