>One of the roles assumed by New Jersey’s municipal governing bodies is as referee when a school budget is defeated. Having been defeated by 102 votes, the proposed $78.8 million Ridgewood Budget now heads for review by elected members of Ridgewood’s Village Council.
The last time The Fly can recall this happening in Ridgewood was 2004, when the Village Council, led by former Mayor Jane Reilly, passed the voter defeated budget with cuts totalling only two-tenths of one percent. Ms. Reilly was offered a paid position with the Ridgewood Board of Education following her departure from public office in the summer of 2004.
By New Jersey state law, if a school budget is defeated, the budget is sent to the municipal government for their recommendations. A municipality is under no obligation to cut the school budget, but the reality is that if the voters defeated the budget, then the taxpayers are demanding some relief. That message is not lost on municipal officials, and they are often forced to find a middle ground between the wants of a school board and the decision of the voters.
Generally, the budget will be sent to the finance committee of each municipality and out of respect to the school board, a meeting is held between the two bodies to discuss what budget cuts are possible. After the municipality makes its recommendations, taxpayers can expect to hear how draconian the cuts are from both school officials and representatives of the teachers union. The public will then hear that the school may not be able to function with such tight restrictions and how the children will be deprived of the finest education.
Some of this is true, but most of it is rhetoric. With few exceptions, most of the recommendations made by municipal officials are modest in size and rarely cut deeply into a schools budget. Whenever you read about significant cuts to a school budget, you can bet that the school district will automatically appeal to the county education commissioner. At this point, the commissioner has the power to reinstate many, if not all, of the proposed budget cuts and the school district winds up winning in the end.
By restoring many of the recommended cuts, the voting result is circumvented and the taxpayer winds up footing the bill. The entire process is out of whack and there has got to be a better way of making the vote count. However, until the electorate of our state has the stomach and political will to reform our school funding formulas, we are stuck with the charade of voting on school budgets.