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School Budget Defeated for First Time in 15 Years

Reflecting polling station numbers, absentee ballots cement budget going to the Borough Council.

Madison residents went to bed Tuesday night still uncertain if the school budget had failed.

This morning, it is clear that the Borough Council will have the final say.

Reflecting tabulations from the polling stations, absentee ballots came in with slightly more "no" votes. Of the 35 absentee ballots the county received from borough residents, 19 were marked no vs. 16 marked yes.

It was the first time the school budget was voted down since 1995, according to school documents.

The county's report showed the budget defeated by 19 votes at the end of polling on Tuesday, with 1,505 no votes vs. 1,486 yes votes. In order for the budget to pass, 28 of the 35 absentee ballots would have needed to be yes votes.

Even with that slight chance, school officials knew it would be extremely difficult for the remaining votes to swing the results.

"It looks like we'd have to get 75 percent of the absentee ballots to get over the top on this, which is probably not likely," Superintendent Dr. Richard Noonan said at the Board of Education office Tuesday night.

Though the budget failed, the turnout of voters who supported the budget increased by 36 percent this year. However, the increase in those voting no was 42 percent. In total, 1,170 more people voted at the polls this year than last.

"Obviously a lot more people came out with it in mind to vote no, and I think we all know what that is attributed to," Noonan said while referencing Gov. Chris Christie's call earlier last week for state residents to vote against any budget without a freeze on staff salaries.

Noonan said he received five or six calls from residents on Tuesday alone asking if teachers were accepting a salary freeze. The district is in the negotiation process with the union, as their contract expires after this school year. Noonan has previously said the Board of Education had already asked all Madison school bargaining groups to take a freeze, but "we don't have the legal authority to impose one."

With the budget appearing to be defeated, the district will have to submit a defeated budget packet to the Borough Council for review.

The district must include the following information, among other items:

  • A line-item budget listing each item by code with a description, including actual expenditures for the previous school year and proposed expenditures for 2010-11, with explanations.
  • A copy of the school district's annual progress report, most recent annual audit and applicable portions of the Comparative Spending Guide and School Report Card.
  • Complete number of current staff and projected staff for the following school year, and salary schedules for all employees.
  • Rationale for the major line item increases or decreases in the budget.

Although encouraged to submit the information to the Borough Council by April 22, the district has an absolute deadline of April 28, two days after election results are certified.

It is then up to the Borough Council to review the submitted information and set a revised tax levy amount for the schools to use. School and borough officials are required to establish a meeting date to give the district an opportunity to present the rationale behind their proposal, and the Borough Council must decide on the new budget number by May 19.

After the decision is rendered, the Board of Education has full jurisdiction in determining what items to adjust in order to meet the new budget total.

"Our job now is to prevail upon council that we're cut to the bone as it is," Noonan said. "From here on in, if there are reductions we may have to look at changes in class size, and additional positions and class programs to cut."

Failing without a need to tabulate the absentee ballots on Tuesday was the second question which asked voters if they wish to restore both the position of visual and performing arts supervisor, held by Stacy Snider, and the Madison Junior School's interscholastic sports program. That proposal was voted down by 509 votes.

The Board of Education and Noonan have said previously that if the second question did not pass, it would be possible for the district to keep Snider, though it would mean bumping another arts teacher.

Results also showed current BOE Vice President Patrick Rowe and newcomer Sam Cavaliere both ran successfully to obtain three-year terms, though it wasn't a surprise for either. The two were running uncontested for the two open spots. Long-time member George Martin did not seek re-election.

Rowe was at the Board of Education office on Tuesday night awaiting–not his own numbers–but the budget vote totals. He said that he was disappointed, but not completely surprised by the outcome. Noonan had also hoped for a different result.

"I'm disappointed," he said. "I think the kids lost tonight."

Check back with Madison Patch for updates.

David S April 21, 2010 at 12:06 PM
Quote from Mr. Noonan in the article above: "Our job now is to prevail upon council that we're cut to the bone as it is," Noonan said. "From here on in, if there are reductions we may have to look at changes in class size, and additional positions and class programs to cut." This is a complete cop-out. What time and effort has been put to figuring out how to run the business of education leaner, smarter, trim the fat, look for efficiencies, pooled resources, pooled purchasing power of supplies between districts? Really? Please don't tell me this has been done already. There hasn't been one article, one interview I have seen in recent times indicating that any effort of any significance has been attributed to looking at ways of trimming the fat. Every other industry has been faced with less funding to do the job. Every other industry has had to find other ways of delivering and minimizing impact. Why is the first and most often tact of this school district to knee jerk react and remove teachers, remove programs? Why? To tug at your heart strings and help to continue providing whatever budgetary demand the school systems need. This needs to stop now! This is the message the voters sent to the superintendant and to the Burough.
Lisa Ellis April 21, 2010 at 01:53 PM
Time to "educate" yourself on the school budget. Attend any meetings, ask any questions, actually look at the line item budget...have you done anything to further your understanding of what is involved in a school budget? Everything you suggest is already being done. Education is people driven with a very high percentage of spending tied to salaries and benefits. Educate yourself on the realitities of education spending in this state - there are things to be very angry about but you do not yet seem to understand what they are.
David S April 21, 2010 at 02:11 PM
Lisa - every business that depends on people has a very high cost of doing business associated with salaries and benefits. So I appreciate the need to consider this as well. All businsses have to do that at some ponit. However, I've never seen any interviews with the board or the superintendent having indicated to the general public that such measures have been considered to look for ways of running the business of education more efficiently. There is always room for improvement. If such things have been done then it should be discussed before the discussion of layoffs or reduction in services. And, as with most other industries, it is time that unions behave in an appropriate way and freeze salaries or reduce compensation. Period.
Lisa Ellis April 21, 2010 at 03:41 PM
Saying you haven't read any interviews does not mean something has not been done. We have countless shared service initiatives underway and more under consideration. We are constantly looking to save money on "stuff" and our building budgets have remained relatively flat for several years. Roughly 80% of our budget is in people costs. We were forced to cut positions and programs this year after 100% of our state aid was cut because "frankly" there was nothing left to cut. We will be working with our unions to achieve cost savings. If you had attended any one of four budget presentations you could have asked and had your questions answered. I would be happy to have a in depth discussion with you at any point regarding public education funding in New Jersey.
David S April 21, 2010 at 05:04 PM
Lisa, I appreciate the suggestion of meeting attendance to ask questions and hear what is going on. In addition to my personal and business life meetings and schedules, I use the media and publications to read and understand what is happening at my leisure. I won't make excuses for my time and how I allocate it. However, with the periodic newsletters published by the school, interviews published in local papers, I stand pat on my suggestion that there is not enough focus and transparency in sharing the details of what is being reviewed and revised prior to tackling staffing and programs. The emphasis is ALWAYS on threats and the reality of removing resources and programs. Give the general public assurance and details as to what has been done and what is being done to make the business run more efficiently. What programs are in place to do so? What programs in this vein have been completed? What's next? I would hope there is as much energy and interest in conveying this message through the provided newsletters and media interviews as there is in publicizing doom and gloom!
Jim April 21, 2010 at 07:02 PM
Lisa, With all due respect, I agree with LetsBFrank. The madison Board of Ed is opaque with the budget process. Information is not provided to residents and what is presented is minimal at best. How do you expect the general public to make an educated decision without providing information?
Lisa Ellis April 21, 2010 at 07:26 PM
The Madison Board of Education has not to my knowledge made any "threats" and we have worked extremely hard to provide complete transparency in all dealings. The bottom line is that public schools especially those in suburban districts are facing extraordinary financial difficulties especially those who like ours have been budgeting responsibly over the last few years. What you referred to as "doom and gloom", I see as harsh realities that we have an obligation to present and explain and then move on to find workable solutions. There are copies of the budget presentations on our website, where we post all pertinent information for those who cannot make meetings, including our meeting minutes. Please refer to www.madisonpublicschools.org. We belong to several purchasing cooperatives, are about to approve an energy savings initiative, are exploring the possibility of a solar power initiative and work closely with surrounding districts, our local colleges and muncipalities to continually find ways to do more with less. If nothing else I hope this exchange encourages you to seek more complex answers to very complex issues. I will give you one to tackle - why not investigate why it is acceptable in this state to allow 31 school districts to first continue to receive the lion's share of state funding and second then allow them to spend per pupil more than double what the high achieving suburban districts are spending. I am in the phone book feel free to call to discuss further.
patchie April 21, 2010 at 09:42 PM
What I don't understand is why the Administrators or Teachers could not take a salary freeze for one year. Especially the Administrators. Richard Noonan (Superintendent) makes almost #230K a year (one of the highest paid Supts in NJ), but it is hard to see the value he is adding as a highly paid Administrator, in a small district. If he were paid $175K, in line with other Superintendents, we could either save $55K or one teacher's job (well maybe not including the teachers pension and benefits!). The Principals are paid highly as well and wouldn't agree to a freeze. Bravo to the other union (custodians etc) that did - and they are probably the lowest paid - and the most flexible. I have reviewed the website and I do see some presentations there, but they don't answer my real questions. By the way, I voted YES but it was the hardest YES vote I've ever made, because in my heart I wasn't sure it was the right vote -- I just didn't want my daughter (who came with me) to know I was wavering since she doesn't understand the politics, and nor do I....I just wanted to show her I support her public education (as I wished I could count on my own salary enough to afford private school, but I can't, because my job, despite requiring a graduate degree, is not guaranteed and I have no pension).
David S April 22, 2010 at 01:29 PM
Lisa, let's face it. Everyone is carrying their fair share of the burdon and unfortunately the schools are no different. You may cringe at my analogy of education as a business but it is. I appreciate what you've mentioned in terms of expenses that have been considered for improvement. You don't mention what the benefit and outcome of those activities have been from a fiscal perspective. Though I am not nearly as familiar with these activities as yourself, the additional points made by 'patchie' above would make it sound like there are several areas that have not been visited or considered. If there is any degree of truth to the executive structure of the district school management, I would agree that it appears to be prime for realignment and compression. One superintendant to each district? Really? Noonan only carries Madison, while his colleagues carry just a few schools a piece in our neighboring towns? At those salaries? And they weren't the first to step up and accept a salary freeze or cut? Where is their fiscal responsibility? Where is their commitment to the kids? Please, don't grandstand here and tell me its my problem that I am not familiar with what happens at the meetings and what decisions are made. I want to hear that real decisions and real actions with real fiscal responsibility FROM THE TOP has been actioned. I hope patchie is wrong .. if not, this is appauling!
David S April 22, 2010 at 03:57 PM
Just to further this, I've just read the lead article in this week's Madison Eagle in regard to the budget 'defeat'. Mr Noonan is quoted as saying, "The kids lost tonight". Wow. And what has he given up to help 'save' the kids? What has his principals and other executives given up to 'save' the kids and preserve a salary or two or a program or two? Have they accepted pay freezes or reduced compensation? EVERYONE has skin in the game. Don't blame your constituents who are already feeling the pain of the economy.
patchie April 22, 2010 at 08:10 PM
I just checked - Noonan makes $226,662 - one of the highest in the state, and for a small district in a small town. And the Administrators, led by Noonan, wouldn't take a freeze. I've heard that Mr. Noonan does not talk to parents (defers everything to principals, even when he shouldn't), but he does go on trips to China and Boston. China may have been funded from outside (?) but it took him out of the office for quite a while; the Boston trip is annual and I'm not sure his attendance is necessary there. He also has nice quiet summers in the ivory tower on Woodland Rd. The Building/Grounds Supervisor makes $97K...hate to pick on him as that union accepted a freeze, but seems high - not to mention benefits and pension. Here is the link.: http://www.state.nj.us/education/finance/fp/ufb/
David S April 23, 2010 at 12:34 AM
Lisa - i hope your indication that you are in the phone book isn't an indication that you've ended your conversation here. I think these conversations are best had in public, don't you? I'd also encourage you go get Mr. Noonan to comment here as well. Let's not let the tough topics stop the dialog. I'm going to draw others here as well. This is a hot topic amongst my neighbors and one in which those that weren't previously as interested in are now more so due to the vote and attention being brought to this by our Governor (like it or not). I would like to see commentary on what 'patchie' is drawing out. What has been done to get the execs and others to freeze budgets or contribute in a way that would help offset the deficit?
patchie April 23, 2010 at 02:19 AM
I think the "No" votes on the main question (the budget vote) had to do with our teachers and administrators not accepting a pay freeze for one year. Not a lack of support of our Education system. I have neighbors with preschool aged children (who, by the way, did not vote because they don't really know they should get out there) who are very concerned about what the "NO" vote means - does Madison not support education? I had a shock of my own tonight as I re-read some of the data on the Extra Ballot Question. For one,To reinstate the Jr School Sports Program and Visual Arts Staff (1 headcount), the cost was $78 per $100,000 of assessed value. (When I voted YES, I had read it as $78 total on the average home). Average assessed value is in the $400-something range. So rounding, that is $320 per average home to reinstate the programs. Wow - no wonder it didn't pass. I can't imagine the senior citizens -- or anyone without kids in school using these programs -- would want to pay that much per year. How's this for an idea: If it's "for the kids", how about if the teachers (or local coaches / members of the Madison Arts Alliance) volunteer to reinstate these programs? Set a good example - get in the press - show what a great place Madison is! Show it is "for the kids"! Note: Be careful, though, about conflicts of interest such as parents/friends coaching their own kids. We can do this! Go Madison!
patchie April 23, 2010 at 02:23 AM
Lisa - are we going to consider the "Pay to Play" approach for Junior School sports that many towns are using? I heard in the Board of Ed meeting, Mr. Noonan stated that many schools in the county are dropping Junior School sports. But I don't see this listed in the cuts when I read what different towns are cutting. Can you provide more information on this? 1) Did other schools cut Jr School sports? Which towns? 2) Are we considering "Pay To Play"? 3) Are the programs really cut for good - or was this alternative just not yet discussed?
Madhattandodger April 23, 2010 at 02:58 AM
Given the fact that the BOE and Admin. received the information that the state aid from Trenton went from $1.2 million to $0 (originally 1.6 with an expected 400,000 reduction) on the night of March 17th, and were mandated to have a proposal submitted to the office of the Governor by the 21st, there was very little time to consider creative approaches. This move by Trenton was sneaky and has left us with a budget with very little room to make anymore cuts. Let's look at some facts: Revenue that we bring in is down and costs to operate are constant, however the gap is widening. A tough economy on top of it all is making the situation tougher. Administrative salaries are easy to pick on and make up a small % of our budget woes. At this point, teacher salaries shouldn't be frozen since the BOE and teaches are in negotiations. In all fairness, waiting to see how the next few months go would be a good approach, as opposed to a knee jerk reaction, like the creation of the budget due to Trenton giving Madison five days to figure it all out. What impact will the many retiring teachers have? What if any additional state aid will arrive? Very few MS sports were cut from districts. I believe 6 or 7 according to the Daily Record went to play to participate. Having volunteers from the community I would think brings up possible liablity issues. Either recreation sports under the town or school sports.
patchie April 23, 2010 at 03:12 AM
I was just reading about other districts where Superintendents agreed to freeze their own salary in good faith. Mighta been a good idea for Noonan, given he is one of the highest paid in the state. All districts were hit with the same surprise and short timeframe. Shooting down creativity already, *sigh*. When do teachers have to announce retirements by? Is a freeze or benefits contribution in the contract negotiations? Or how about one day a week Club or Sport contribution after school? Pay-to-play may work fine - has it been discussed in Madison? Was this alternative considered rather than a YES/NO ballot question? Is it the backup plan?
Madhattandodger April 23, 2010 at 03:18 AM
Correction - operating costs are constantly rising - utlities, etc. and 6 schools went to pay to play Despite costs rising, our current teacher salary guide is consistent with NJ schools, however it is still declining compared to non teacher salaries. This number on the budget proposal is obviously large and something that requires dialogue. Spending is the area that could be looked at more closely.
Madhattandodger April 23, 2010 at 03:32 AM
For retirement, didn't Christie propose the changes for retirement numbers to be voted on by August 1? I have not seen anything about this in a while. The 1.5% towards benefits based on salary sounds like it will be a madatory done deal. According to friends and what was said at the budget proposal, negoations have not started due to everyone wanting to wait it out. I did not read anything else about it moving forward. Creativity - some districts were able to work out shared bus services, cut athletic budgets by lessening the number of teams (not entire programs), business partnerships, and other travel costs. Pay to do extra curriculars I would think would be a possiblity. I guess they would have to look into established models used in other districts. If you go with no sports and rely on the recreation department, go all out and make it the best it can be. There would be no reason to do an intramural or volunteer for one day of sports after school. Many of the coaches at the middle school level have great experience, know the sport, and don't have a kid on the team. There are exceptions I am sure, but for the most part it is all true. It was the parent's who raised money to start many of the Jr. School sports programs, and $100-$150 is reasonable for a year of sports and club involvement considering recreation costs about $50 per sport.
Pat Rowe April 23, 2010 at 05:33 AM
As noted in the budget presentation - http://www.madisonpublicschools.org/madisonps/lib/madisonps/2010-2011%20School%20District%20Budget.pdf ; the cost per $100,000 of assessed valuation for the base question was $69, or $284 for the "average" Madison home assessed at $411,000. The cost per $100,000 of assessed value for the base + second question was $78.50 or $323 for the same "average" home. So the second question would have added $9.50 per $100,000, not $78, and a total of $39 for the "average" Madison home, not $320.
patchie April 23, 2010 at 02:13 PM
I would much rather "Pay To Play" than have this added to the taxes of every homeowner. Personally I am looking forward to the higher level of professionalism of school sports (hopefully) than the Rec Program (with parent coaches, politics, and a very laid back Recreation director that does not oversee tryouts or team formation). I think the programs should be maintained even if self-funded, and many districts have done this successfully. When people refer to "threats", I believe they are talking about the "threat" of cutting programs such as athletics and extracurriculuars, when there are other viable alternatives. CAS just put in place a parent-funded extracurricular program where PTO collects money for programs and pays the teachers for their after school time spent with the kids on a Club activity. Bravo! KRS is implementing a Science Fair this May due to a teacher's volunteer efforts and Kathy Koop's leadership. Awesome!
patchie April 23, 2010 at 02:19 PM
Regarding cost per student. I believe Madison is on the "high average" side - perhaps someone can check the numbers if interested. Madison has barely any bussing. In some districts, bussing is a very significant cost. I assume that goes in the cost/student. So without significant bussing expense (our schools are neighborhood/in-town vs regional schools with sometimes almost 100% bussing - think Morris Twp, Hunterdon, Sparta, etc) -- shouldn't we have a lot more money for curriculum based expenses? For athletic competitions at the Junior School level, can we eliminate bussing and let parents be responsible for getting their own child to Away competitions? I heard bussing is the highest expense in running these programs.
patchie April 23, 2010 at 02:20 PM
Manhattandodger, are you on the Board of Education?
madisonparent April 23, 2010 at 05:06 PM
Please note, the BOE members and Noonan don't always return calls or other communication. They wait for a crisis situation, as is happening now with the NO votes prevailing. Many people wonder what Noonan is doing to support his large salary...and he doesn't talk to parents in the district...I had heard, too that he is "all about protocol". If we wanted Yes to prevail, there is a lot more work to be done to engage the community in the process. More than a few budget presentations. Perhaps the budget going to the borough council is a good thing. I'd like to see some creative contributions from teachers. People are questioning the NJEA "for the kids" mantra beccause the minimalist approach from long tenured teachers often doesn't show it. By the way, Madison has a very high number of students in Private Schools as compared to Chatham. And Madison pays bussing fees to transport them I believe. Perhaps that is why Madison was a NO town and Chatham a YES.
patchie April 24, 2010 at 06:53 PM
Mr. Rowe, thanks for your correction and appreciate your chiming in. However, my point still stands that families (and singles, and senior citizens) without kids in Junior School sports are not likely to want the cost for those programs added to their tax bill. Pay-to-play -- charging the users of the program -- makes a lot more sense, and other towns think so too. I believe Madison was the only town to pose this as a Second Ballot Question. If Noonan took a pay cut to an average NJ Superintendent salary, we could fund Junior School sports with that amount, and perhaps even buy a few textbooks too (also an issue at Junior School). I think average Superintendent salary is something like $175K. Noonan is overpaid by $50K. The Tom's River Superintendent (in the news, he is being investigated) is paid about the same as Noonan ($230K - ish) and is responsible for a district of 19,000 students. How many students in our district? (Our small high school has about 800 students; other grades something like 150-200 per grade so maybe 2500?). If he is paid at the top, the performance should be superior too.
David S April 27, 2010 at 07:09 PM
I am quite offended by Lisa Ellis' last response in this thread, in affect no longer liking the conversation and leaving the public discussion. She invites us to call her as she 'is in the book'. All of these discussions and debates, ideas, good and bad - need to be held in public. BOE and the superindentant need to be in our faces and willing to discuss the tough topics in a difficult time in public. If the representatives of our schools and our government conduct these activities as our representatives behind closed doors they should be ousted from their positions! There are more people that have an interest in these topics than they realize and pointing to reports posted on a website that leave much to be desired or inviting a private one to one phone call is no substitute for public discussion and debated. Lisa - I ask you to bring your ball back to the public party!
Lisa Ellis April 27, 2010 at 09:23 PM
I apologize that I do not have the time to devote to the practice of blogging as many of you seem too. I welcome public discussion and debate - come to a public board meeting where you will be given ample time to speak and voice your opinions in public. Questions can be answered, information shared...in a terrific, transparent, public forum. I'm sorry I have trouble considering a blog where so few people are even willing to put their real names to their opinions to be "public" forums. Consider me old school...

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