This past week, close to 6,300 students went back to Westfield schools for another year of learning. The summer was used as time for the administration to prepare for the new year; class assignments were made, the new teacher institute agenda was established (we welcomed over 50 new teachers into the district this year as replacements for those retiring or on leave), the technology team was hard at work upgrading many of our technology systems and the balance of the roofs that needed to be repaired, were completed. This was only a small portion of the effort that goes into getting 10 buildings ready to receive all of these students.
Everything that was done, large or small requires money. I currently serve as the chairman of the Finance Committee of the Westfield Board of Education and I see first-hand where our revenue comes from and what our expenses are; and I see every day how we are working to find ways to reduce costs without reducing the services that we provide.
Our general fund budget this year is close to $95 million dollars and in the 2012 audit issued by the state on the cost per pupil, our average cost was $12,100. The state uses a complex calculation where they attempt to normalize each district so that the comparisons can be fair. The average district in our state had a cost per pupil of $13,700 and when we compare Westfield to other similar communities, only Scotch Plains and Chatham had slightly lower averages. Cranford, New Providence, Berkeley Heights, Summit, Livingston and Millburn were all higher than Westfield.
Despite our favorable standing on cost per pupil, we need to find ways to save money in some areas so that we can re-invest those dollars into other areas of need—technology and infrastructure are two of those areas and I am happy to say that I am a member of both our technology and facilities committees. We have a long list of needs and wants that we continue to evaluate. We have invested significantly in these areas in my three years on the board. Additionally, in 2012-2013, we made a contribution to our capital reserve account of over $1 million. These funds can and will be used to support our infrastructure. The last time that a contribution had been made to this fund was close to 10 years ago!
As we all do in our personal lives, the Board of Education has a budget that we must live within. And yet costs continue to rise. Labor and benefits that make up close to 80% of our expenses will continue to rise, with health care costs going up 15 percent just this year alone, after aggressively managing all of our renewal costs. The “other 20%” of the budget is everything else. And as we all know, when costs go up in one area, such as health care, we have less to spend on all of the other costs.
Westfield is not alone—every district has the same challenges, but we must, in my opinion, find other ways to conduct the business of our schools, if we want to be able to continue to provide the level of service that we have come to know. The math just does not work. We already ask the taxpayers to bear the burden each year of a 2 percent tax increase. With health care costs rising more than 2 percent and state mandates growing faster than state aid to fund those mandates (in fact state aid now funds less than 4 percent of our budget - far less than the cost of state mandates), we need to continually challenge ourselves to do things differently, looking internally to fund what we want, and not to the taxpayers. As I have said at many Board meetings, as Board members we have the responsibility to not just accept higher costs, but to learn to do things differently and more efficiently.
I have thrown a lot of numbers and thoughts at you in this letter but the simple message is this: I have three years under my belt now of learning how we do things and how we need to do them in the future. There is a lot more work to do and I would like to continue serving on the school board. Please vote for me on November 5th. If you have any questions, you can email me at email@example.com and please follow me on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/pages/VoteForFriedman-Westfield-School-Board/152369411486421