N.J. Cheats Charters?May 14, 2009
Groundhog Day for School Aid Payments?May 15, 2009
School districts and town councils continue to wrestle with failed budgets, and one puzzling item keeps appearing in news report: calls on the part of council members, perhaps serving as taxpayer megaphones, to cut teacher salaries in spite of the legal standing of negotiated contracts. Are they being naïve? Are they being obnoxious? Who knows.
In Wayne, the Record reports that the Township Council ordered a $1.75 million dollar cut to the defeated $118.6 million budget, although the Council President Joseph Scuralli voted against it, arguing that the cuts didn’t go far enough and that administrators and teachers should take pay cuts.
Tonight I am not supporting this because I think the board could have gone further. I think the union could have put something on the table. It doesn’t have to do with children — it has to do with adults.
In Moorestown, 500 people, mostly teacher union members, attended the Town Council’s meeting on the failed $68.5 million budget. According to the Burlington County Times,
The council, which is required by law to review and possibly make changes to the budget, has suggested reducing teachers’ raises from 5 percent to 3 percent, freezing wages for administrators and principals who earn more than $100,000, and having district employees contribute 5 percent toward health insurance.
Acting Mayor John Button said that council members were merely offering ideas to reduce the budget and were “not trying to negotiate school contracts,’” but trying “to fix a very difficult and complex problem.”
It’s actually not “very difficult and complex;” it’s simple. Districts can’t reduce costs in any meaningful way when about 85% of the nut come from contractual obligations, transportation, and utilities. This year,districts are finding some savings around the edges. For example, the Ramsey Borough Council (see here) is recommending to the local Board that they lay off aids, reduce middles school sports, and cut some extracurricular activities. The Mount Olive Town Council (here) is recommending eliminating courtesy busing (transportation for kids who live within the State’s limit of 2 and ½ miles), middle school sports, ice hockey, and new technology purchases.
These cuts hurt a little and save a little. But what happens next year when contractual teacher salary increases go up between 4% and 5% (that’s about average across the State) and there’s little left to cut? That’s when districts will have no choice but to lay off staff and increase class sizes. There’s nowhere else to go as long as contracts – untouchable, in spite of the pipedreams of town council members — mandate unsustainable salary increases and health benefits.