To the Editor,
I attended the South Orange – Maplewood Board of Education’s budget workshop Wednesday night. The reality is dismaying. As Superintendent Dr. John Ramos stated, our district is heading toward a “fiscal cliff” in which expenses continue to rise while state and federal aid remain the same. Something’s gotta give, and Business Administrator Cheryl Schneider’s detailed presentation showed that we have reached the point of cutting essentials, such as teachers.
As a community, we have choices about how we respond to this situation. We can treat the administration or the BOE as the bad guys. We can start or sign petitions against this cut or that cut without proposing what to cut instead, as if the cuts are taking place in a vacuum and not in the context of an overall budget. While those actions may release some frustration, they do not move us forward.
When I spoke last night, I asked the BOE to raise my taxes. There is money in the “banked cap” and there is also the potential of using some portion of the 2% cap for this year. This weekend, many of us will be attending Achieve Foundation dinners. We seem perfectly willing to attend fundraisers galore for Achieve, our PTAs, or clubs or activities our kids are involved in. If we can donate money to private organziations for new playgrounds, musical instruments, field trips etc. (all of which are important), we ought to be willing to put our money into the public coffers to pay for teachers and academic interventionists (which are necessary).
In addition, we need to coalesce as a community to bring our creativity, our connections and our energy to getting funding for our schools. As BOE President Elizabeth Baker noted last night, the administration must make identifying, applying for and obtaining grants a priority. We members of the community can support, and in some cases perhaps lead, that endeavor. We can also advocate for our district on the state and federal levels. I want members of the BOE to lead that effort by explaining the needed changes to the community and showing us how to mobilize to create those changes. Please turn the anger and frustration in the community into positive action: advocacy for changes on the state level, where the source of the problem actually lies.
In the meantime, all of our children – and our property values – will benefit from having schools that are fully supported and funded by our community. We must put our money where our mouths – and our children — are.
(Parent of two children in the SOMSD schools)