WESTFIELD, NJ - The Westfield Board of Education met Tuesday night to discuss the proposed budget for the 2010-2011 school year in response to projected state aid figures prior to the release of state funding figures by the New Jersey Department of Education the following day.
The Board was shocked and disappointed to learn that the projection for state funding for the upcoming 2010-2011 school year would amount to a reduction of 92%. This would mean that the amount of state aid offered would drop down to less than 1% of the overall budget and the district would stand to lose approximately $4,250,000.00.
The Board previously had created a budget plan taking into account a few possible scenarios. They anticipated the worst case scenario being a 15% loss of State funding to the district. If this proved to be the case, the Westfield School District would stand to lose approximately $750,000.00 in their state aid funding. The district currently attributes approximately 6% of their yearly budget to state aid funding.
"We must proceed tonight intelligently. But we do not have actual State numbers as of yet and we can't ignore it," explained Superintendent Dolan. "In light of this very bad fiscal news we have received, we must have an open minded perspective. We have one week, until March 23rd, to approve the budget numbers and forward them to the County Superintendent. The Board will then announce the final approval by March 30th."
The district may need to cut administrators and teachers, current programs and resources within the schools. The Board members announced that they will do all they can and work nonstop to find ways of avoiding these outcomes.
Dr. Dolan further explained that several emails have gone out to administrators, teachers and the community asking everyone to work together to find a solution to this extremely difficult situation. There was also an administration meeting held on Tuesday to discuss possible options, look at each individual line item again and try to find some answers.
"The solution for this has to come from a combination of things. Dr. Dolan's plan to go to all the heads of various associations for suggestions is a step forward, but will not solve the problem," stated Board Member Richard Solomon. "Then there is the option of raising more money through raising the property taxes, which of course, no one wants. There's no doubt that there are some very serious things that are going to happen in the next couple of weeks."
"We cannot lose sight of the fact that we have worked to build a great system and we will not throw it away," said Board Member Gary McCready.
This coming Saturday, the 20th, the Board will hold the phase two portion of its Strategic Planning Session, where the budget will be the main concern.
"We have worked since last summer to contain costs, going over what was available with the employees, parents and the Board. We are the decision makers because we all have a firsthand understanding of how the system works," said Board Member Julia Walker. "We are fortunate in that we all have the same goal and we will work very hard to find a solution. That is not the case in all districts."
Last year, Westfield was forced to cut twenty-four employee positions as well as forty-one stipends.
"Last year was bad, I just cannot believe how this year can be so much worse," said Board member Jane Clancy. "I am just tired of feeling punished for doing the right thing. I am simply dumbfounded."
The public is also urged to offer any ideas that they can provide to shed some light on ways to save current programs, jobs and the level of education that the Westfield community has come to expect. If you do have ideas about how to work with the lack of funding for the new year, Dr. Dolan has asked that you contact her or the Board.
"We are looking at things through a very different lens now," said Board Member Ginny Leiz. "But if any community can do this, figure it out, we can."
There will be a public hearing meeting held on March 30th.
Editor's Note: Yesterday, the New Jersey Department of Education released district-by-district state funding figures. Westfield, which received $4,670,514 last year, will receive $448,345 this coming year. Click here to view a spreadsheet of district-by-district state funding figures.