I have taken the opportunity over the past few weeks to sit down and talk with some of the administrators, former board members and teachers within our District in an effort to identify current and ongoing issues that our District faces, and some of the possible solutions to those issues. I think the concerns facing the District are of three general types – (i) business and financial, (ii) educational, and (iii) health and safety. I’ll address some of the business and financial concerns of the District in this article.
The good news is that our District has been very effective is in getting a good return for each dollar we spend. Westfield spends a little over $12,000 per pupil for educational services. The State averages just under $14,000 and districts like Millburn and Montclair spend about $14,000 per pupil. Yet the results from Westfield are consistently impressive. Westfield High School was recently ranked as the 29th best high school in the nation(!) according to a Newsweek survey and has been called a “Model for Education” by a representative of the State Department of Education.
These achievements are validated by the fact that 95 percent of our 2013 graduates are continuing their post high school education. These and other accomplishments are listed in the Points of Pride disseminated by the Board of Education and shown periodically on our local cable channel. Collectively, it is evidence of the impressive return we get for our educational spending. The District has also kept the budget for the past three years within two percent of the property cap which adds to the picture of a fiscally prudent District that does the absolute most with its money.
Yet, like every other District, we still feel the crunch of finding money to provide the best possible learning environment for our children. Increasing health care costs eat up budgetary funds, children with special educational requirements need to receive adequate support, and there is always the desire to provide good salaries to attract and retain the teachers and educational professionals who interact with our children on a daily basis.
I think one possible source of increased revenue could be trying to expand the groups and organizations that rent District facilities. There is an ongoing need for recreational and other facilities for use within the District. Marketing and expanding the universe of potential users of District facilities should be maximized to provide as much revenue as possible within an affordable range. We also need to continuously explore all possible sources of grant aid on the State and federal level.
Expenses may be reduced by researching greater cooperative purchasing opportunities (which the District takes advantage of now) to provide maximum savings on District purchases. The District also needs to further investigate implementing a state funded energy audit for an analysis of energy efficiencies that could reduce the energy related bills of the District. State aid may be sought for any resulting capital improvement with the added benefit that any improvements made will allow for reduced energy costs over time and ultimately help pay for themselves. The reduced energy costs and implementation of “greener” technology would be a win for everyone.
Creating a workable budget each year to provide for our children’s educational needs and which is still financially prudent for the residents of Westfield is a challenge. The only way to do this is by constant analysis of how to increase revenues and decrease expenses. This is something the District has done very well to date, but which will require consistent attention and innovative thinking in the years ahead so that we may maintain the high educational standards we enjoy right now.