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Staff Cut, Capital Slashed in Wyckoff School Budget

By Nicholas Loffredo, Wyckoff Patch, 4/2/10

Ten staffers will lose their jobs, capital expenditures will be sharply reduced and taxes will rise should voters approve the 2010-11 Wyckoff school budget.

The Board of Education unanimously adopted a $33,228,727 spending plan Thursday that calls for a $31,808,113 tax levy that would increase the average tax bill, based on a home assessed at $807,000, by $290. Initial projections made before the board learned it would lose its state aidestimated an average tax hike of $226, but the board chose to apply some of the lost aid toward the overall levy, which is increasing by 4.2 percent over the current plan.

"We have worked tirelessly" to minimize the impact of the state aid loss, said board President Daniel Moynihan, who delivered a budget presentation to an audience of dozens at Eisenhower Middle School. The loss of $1.45 million in aid left the board with "hard choices to make."

Among those choices was to let go of 10 staffers. Two world language teachers will lose their jobs, as well as two Eisenhower Middle School teachers. Four clerical aides will be let go, along with a part-time ESL teacher and a part-time nurse at Eisenhower (who will be replaced with a part-time aide).

Moynihan explained that world language programs will not be cut from the district's offerings as a result of the loss of teachers. Rather, the district will find ways to incorporate the lessons within the daily programming as opposed to instruction being delivered by set teachers.

"We have to be creative with it and decide how to do it," he said.

Similarly, students who need instruction in English as a second language will still receive that attention; the district plans to designate two schools among the four elementary schools where lessons will be provided, rather than at each school.

Staffers were not the only casualties of what Moynihan termed a "maintenance budget." Interscholastic sports will be eliminated, at a savings of approximately $30,000. However, the travel program could be resurrected under new terms. The board president said the district could consider a "pay to play" option, where parents pay an extra fee for their child to participate in a sport, or the board could look to work with the Wyckoff Family YMCA and/or the Wyckoff Recreation Department to provide sports offerings.

"I wouldn't say its dead, just wounded," Moynihan said.

Capital expenditures will be sharply cut, affecting planned painting and paving projects. The 2010-11 budget allots $294,500 toward improvements, down from $722,454 in 2009-10 and $1,403,000 in 2008-09.

The school board had initially drafted a budget under the assumption that aid from the state would be reduced by 15 percent, as articulated by education Commissioner Bret Schundler. However, Gov. Chris Christie's budget proposal called for aid packages to be reduced by up to 5 percent of districts' total budgets. Wyckoff, like many suburban districts, lost its entire expected $1.45 million package as its aid doesn't rise to even 5 percent of the total operating plan.

The board could have applied the entire aid loss toward the tax levy and taken its chances at the polls, as the state is issuing waivers to exceed the mandated 4 percent expenditure increase cap. Instead, it chose to cut nearly $900,000 from the 2010-11 budget and apply the balance of money lost toward the amount to be raised by taxation.

"We have to find ways with less dollars to do more," Moynihan said.

However, the spending plan doesn't include just expenditure reductions. Mandated and contractual costs are rising. Teacher salaries are slated to go up by 4.4 percent next year, with a $20.6 million outlay that represents nearly 62 percent of the total budget.

Moynihan and business Administrator Alan Reiffe confirmed that the district did send letters to the employee unions, requesting conversations on a wage freeze that could potentially lead to the restoration of some state aid, under a Christie proposal made public last week. The unions have not responded thus far, although Wyckoff Education Association President Kathy Bowers said earlier this week that the governor's suggestion was a "Band-Aid, not a solution.

"The WEA wants to be a part of the solution for excellence in education, not a quick fix to balance his budget," Bowers said via e-mail.

Bowers did address the board and administration Thursday, praising them for the work they put into the budget.

"You were able to keep the integrity of the district and staff intact. I appreciate all the time, energy and forethought that was spent preparing the budget... I know for the staff members that lost their jobs and the programs cut, it stinks. It always does. But I think we need to point out that the district lost staff and programs due to the governor's budget cuts. We need to remember that in your initial budget, no jobs or programs were cut," she said to a round of applause.

Other fixed increases in the 2010-11 plan include $3.73 million in health benefits, representing more than 11 percent of the budget, and $2.1 million for special education and tuition, roughly 6.2 percent of the budget. Utility costs are budgeted at $1.07 million.

Resident Robert Grossman of Frederick Court asked the board about how much thought has gone into future budget cycles, as the funding situation may not improve.

"We are always having conversations," Moynihan said, detailing various examples of how the district could theoretically be restructured alongside its counterparts in the FLOW districts.

"We're always looking big picture, but unfortunately we have a myopic view of it today," he said.

Resident Jim Savage was concerned about rising taxes.

"We're out of work, our houses are foreclosed on ... the message really is that we're supposed to be taking the taxes down to nothing... we are not a bottomless pit.

"We have to find a way to hold the numbers down," Savage said.

The school board will meet at 7 p.m. Monday at Eisenhower. Moynihan will again deliver a budget presentation.

The budget's tax levy will be up for a vote on April 20.

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