Sunday, April 10, 2011

Nightmare in Dumont (schools)?

Wow, did I have a nightmare, or so I thought...

On March 31, Superintendent Triggiano and Business Manager Cartotto made a joint presentation on the proposed Dumont Schools 2011-2012 budget (video here).  The takeaway I had from the hour long slide show was this:

Triggiano:  I am pleased to say that if our budget is successful at 2%, we are not planning 
on making any major changes in staffing or programs at this time.

I thought that sounded great, until I noticed the following:
  • If the district received almost $400,000 more state aid and $310,000 more federal aid than last year, why does the district want another $618,006 from taxpayers?
  • In the 2009-2010 budget, the regular student enrollment estimate for the coming year was up 6 but actually down 20, or 1% error.  For 2010-2011 the estimate was up 27 but was actually down 40, or almost 3% error.  For that, the 2011-12 estimate has little credibility with me.  Why has the district overestimated student enrollment for the past two years?  
Why is this a big deal?  Because a rising enrollment better justifies a higher budget.  Because of these seemingly small estimation errors, the actual "Total Comparative Per Pupil cost" from 09-10 to 10-11 shot up from $11204 to $12809, or 14.3%.  Had pupil population remained at 2007 -2008 levels, the per pupil increase would have been just over 10%.  How does that fare for Dumont, whose population actually decreased 0.1% from 2000 to 2010, contrasting population increases of  2.4% for bergen-passaic and 4.5% for all of NJ respectively according to official census figures?  In other words, decreasing enrollment coupled with a decreasing population (fewer taxpayers) in a fully developed town is a recipe for an upward spiral of tax levy that will become unsustainable for more taxpayers with every passing year.
Is there any chance for these folks to 'share the pain' that teachers and custodians have agreed to last year  even though these folks enjoyed a 3% raise, even if the savings seems only symbolic?  Would the school board award a raise for these people again this year?  Do our teachers and custodians deserve less than administrators?

I do not make these comments lightly.  Both of my children are in Dumont schools, but I am also a taxpayer.  In my humble opinion, I think the statement "This board of education has decided to remain at the 2% limit recommended by the governor" smacks of ignorance at best, arrogance at worst and endemic of an attitude  that became obsolete when the recession began three years ago.

Why this is not an April fools' nightmare but the bleak reality?