The following column appeared in The Ridgewood News on April 27, 2018.
Dare I say that springtime is finally here? The crocuses and daffodils have had to push a bit harder to get to the surface due to some late snowstorms but it seems winter is now well behind us as we move from school closures and delayed openings to the spring sports calendar, Earth Day celebrations and the first barbecues of the season ahead … and yes, cutting the grass.
Along with turning our thoughts to the great outdoors, this is also the time of year in which the Ridgewood Board of Education finalizes and approves the next year’s school budget. For the past several months our administrators have been working to develop a 2018-2019 budget that provides resources for our outstanding instructional and co-curricular programs, our fine staff, and for the maintenance and operations of our facilities. Given rising costs and legal mandates, it is a tall order to put together a fiscally responsible budget but I am happy to say that once again we have succeeded.
The 2018-2019 budget, which will be approved by the Board of Education on May 7 and is approximately $110,000,000, maintains our outstanding staff, upholds and improves our excellent and rigorous academic offerings and supports new initiatives. As detailed in our 2018-2019 budget presentation, next year’s budget will also permit us to add new staff and programs, maintain and continue to upgrade our instructional technology equipment, implement new curriculum at all grade levels and undertake some facility renovations and improvements to school security.
How do we develop the budget? We start the process by creating instructional goals, which focus our work on the budget. Those goals for next year are as follows:
• Build capacity to create and implement authentic growth-based, innovative assessment practices to measure progress and foster student success. We do this through a review and update of curriculum and assessments, through formal and informal observations in classrooms, and by continuing to shift and leverage technology integration and learning environments.
• Continue to build capacity for implementation of interventions and instructional strategies for diverse learners to maximize students’ individual success. Examples of this goal are the two-year training of 21-plus staff members in multi-sensory reading strategies, and also curricular improvements such two new A.P. classes (Physics C and Human Geography) at the high school and many other courses in grades K-12.
• Build capacity to foster student wellbeing by focusing on social/emotional learning as an integral component of student health and achievement. We will do this by replicating our Ridgewood High School therapeutic program at our middle schools, by continuing to grow and infuse mindfulness activities into our classrooms and programs, and by fostering building initiatives like the “Choose to be Nice” programs within our schools. In addition, we are adding significant security measures to improve physical safety for staff and students.
Goals aside, some thoughtful residents have asked whether Ridgewood’s tradition of excellence continues to be upheld over the years. I want to share with you here some basic information taken from New Jersey official reports showing how the Ridgewood Public Schools continue to be effective and efficient:
• SAT and ACT scores: The RHS Class of 2017 had an average SAT score of 1272 and ACT score of 27, which exceed the average New Jersey SAT score of 1103 and ACT score of 23.75 and the average national SAT score of 1060 and ACT score of 21.
• Per pupil spending: Our per pupil spending continues to be significantly lower than surrounding districts. According to the 2016-2017 NJ Department of Education Comparative Spending Guide, Ridgewood came in at $15,119, while for example, Paramus was $18,826, Mahwah $18329 and Tenafly $17,049.
For additional information and commentary, I invite you to take a look at the full 2018-2019 budget presentation, which may be found on the home page of our website at www.ridgewood.k12.nj.us. I would also encourage you to browse through the Program of Studies for the elementary schools, middle schools and high school, which are located on the website under Academics/Departments. I also welcome any questions about the 2018-2019 budget, which may be emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Ridgewood community is a critical partner in financing our mission of educational excellence. Due to the manner in which the State of New Jersey funds schools, the majority of our school funding is generated through the local property tax. Our proposed total budget for 2018-2019 of $110,167,997 will add $250.71 to the local tax bill on the average-assessed Ridgewood home.
In closing, the Ridgewood Public Schools continue to be fiscally prudent and efficient as well as educationally successful. For your support of the budget through taxes, and for the community’s further generous donations that this year exceeded one million dollars for curricular and co-curricular programs, I am grateful.
As always, please feel free to contact me with your questions or concerns.
Daniel Fishbein, Ed.D., is Superintendent of the Ridgewood Public Schools