The announcement Wednesday that Madison public schools would lose all of its state aid for 2010-2011 didn't come as much of a shock to Superintendent Dr. Richard Noonan.
"Madison only gets 6 or 7 percent of its budget in aid," he said. "The rest of the money comes from taxes in Madison and some in Harding. However, every dollar lost needs to be made up."
A loss of 100 percent funding would mean $1.6 million the district would need to find elsewhere. Christie on Tuesday proposed a cut of $819 million in state aid to schools. In terms of specific numbers, he is proposing that local school districts will see a state cut that is equal to no more than five percent of the total Board of Education budget. However, in towns like Madison where the budget only has a little over 5 percent coming from aid, that could mean all or almost all aid will be eliminated.
"It is probably better not to comment too much until we see the hard figures," Noonan said earlier Wednesday before the numbers had been finalized "But based on what was shared yesterday, it appears as though all aid has been lost, close to $1.6 million. If that stands up once I get the notice today, we're going to to have to look at significant reductions, eliminations, and layoffs."
Noonan also said that the final day statutorily to have the Board of Education present a preliminary budget to the state is Monday. That gives districts less than a week to take the new proposed guidelines and apply them to their budgets.
"This is a crazy set of circumstances we've been thrust into, and not circumstances of our own making," Noonan said. "Obviously if we've lost that much, 5 percent of the budget, which was announced, we want to do that in a smart way and I think the rushed time table we've all been given just can't do justice to that."
"We're going to have to work around the clock to not compromise what we are trying to achieve here in our schools," Noonan said.
Madison is not the only district to lose a large portion of its state aid funding. Nearby districts such as Summit, Millburn and Livingston will also lose 100 percent of their state aid. All together, 59 districts will lose the their total amount of state aid.
The cuts were made to not exceed 5 percent of a district's budget. But for districts such as Madison where state aid only makes up about that percentage, all was lost.
State Education Commissioner Bret Schundler defended the increased cuts in a conference call with reporters Wednesday afternoon. He avoided discussing individual districts and the cuts, stressing the overall aid figure.
"Districts had the understanding that it would be 15 percent, and it is a number that is less than that," he said.
Schundler placed the blame at the state aid reductions for school districts at the feet of previous Democratic administrations, and defended the cuts by saying that the state legislature can avert layoffs at the school district level by implementing Christie's package of public employee reforms in a quick time frame. The package includes changing the pension and health benefits packages for teachers, including requiring co-pays and larger payments for pensions. The co-pays will apply to school personnel who retire after the changes are made, but not to those who leave their jobs before the proposals are enacted.
He said this will allow for more quick retirements from teachers who do not want to pay part of their health insurance in retirement. Quick enactment, he said, which is not considered likely, will help stem the expected layoffs in school districts statewide.
"That will dramatically reduce the number of personnel reductions that would be achieved through a layoff," he said. "These reforms will reduce costs to the districts and create a need for early retirements."