Rainy Day for a Rainy Day Fund Protest

Auditorium Half full? Or half empty?

Well, on the one hand, last night’s "Schools are Not the Culprits!" education funding reform forum in Glen Ridge did attract public officials from Summit, Ramsey, Mountain Lakes, Ridgewood and Livingston.

On the other hand, very few members of the public showed up. Nor did any state legislators. And — let’s face it — a Boston Tea Party it was not.

True, property taxes in the state of New Jersey — and particularly in Baristaville — are outrageously high. At issue is the fact that schools in New Jersey are funded by property taxes, rather than through state income tax.

But if you went to the forum last night, you were subjected to the arcane provisions of something called S-1701, a bill passed last summer to try to reduce property taxes on the backs of local school boards. In less than five minutes, you got to hear about "bank caps." Within 30 minutes, all your problems with insomnia were solved. After an hour, you were ready to write a personal check to send every child in New Jersey to private school, if only everybody would shut up about "fund balance minimums."

The problem, as the Barista sees it, is that you can’t start a taxpayer’s revolution if the first plank in your platform is "Promote Informed Decision-Making: Data Resource & Analysis."

Want a revolution? Declare snow days in October, withhold report cards, have fourth-graders march on Trenton, burn books, burn bras, anything. But don’t bore us.

11 COMMENTS

  1. Ah, there’s the rub! This is pretty boring stuff, and there is so much more interesting stuff to do (it is the Holiday Party time of year, after all).
    I wonder what it would take to get a useful number of folks to take an interest in this. If state legislators were to start fire-bombing schools in Baristaville, do you think we could fill up an auditorium? (but the “Blind Boys of Alabama” Special is on tonight…) Well, S-1701 is the political equivalent of a Molotov Cocktail, aimed at the school districts of NJ.
    Open your eyes folks, or we’ll wind up with the educational system of Alabama.

  2. Carl –
    Why make us all trudge to an auditorium at our kids bedtime. If you want us to know about it, post it! Not sure why being physically present is so important. I’ve never been a good listener anyways.
    Why are schools not the culprit? That’s where the growth in dollars is.

  3. Lex,
    I wasn’t so much bemoaning the lack of people last night as much as Debbie’s unfortunately accurate assessment of people’s (lack of) interest in the subject.
    The subject of last night’s forum was S-1701, which targets Board of Ed budgets, as well as county and municipal budgets. (This is especially amusing because the same legislature that passed this also increased state spending by 17%, and is borrowing its way into financial disaster.)
    One of the big problems with the caps set by S-1701 is that they are completely arbitrary, and not based on the number of pupils in the district, nor the current efficiencies or lack of efficiencies in the district, nor do they take into account the many mandates by the state and the feds that are rising at a much higher rate then the caps. Only a very small percentage of what our BofE spends is truly discretionary (because the mandated stuff may not be touched, and because things like insurance and energy costs are beyond the control of the BofE); in order to come under the caps, that small portion that is discretionary will have to be gutted to make up the difference.
    I am all in favor of cutting wasteful school spending, most people are (Except the beneficiaries of that waste), but just setting a cap without helping the local boards control the reasons for increased school spending, and without accounting for increases in enrollment and in fixed expenses (e.g. oil prices, insurance costs, etc.) and essentially exempting the Abbott Districts, where the lion’s share of the state aid goes (and where much of the real waste is), is madness.
    p.s. They announced last night that they will be putting the handouts up on this website:
    https://www.gscschools.org
    so if you missed the meeting, you should be able to get more info there

  4. Thanks! I’ll read the stuff on the train home.
    But, schools are the culprit, aren’t they? Not that it’s wrong, but that’s where our poroperty taxes mainly go and that’s what has been increasing the fastest over the years.

  5. Oh, wait. I’m done reading it (if I’m reading the right thing.)
    Basic message:
    1) S-1701 is bad because it caps school spending in an unrealistic and unfair way.
    2) The best way to fund the schools is to have the state do part of it.
    If that was the message that was delivered last night, I’m glad I didn’t go. We’ve been hearing that message for a while.
    Why not post a link to how to complain to who we should complain to? I’m sure there are a lot more people reading this forum than post to it, so that might be effective.
    But, on point two, isn’t the state funded by me, the income tax payer? If the state ups school funding, they will have to up income taxes, won’t they? So, basically, this recommends that we can cut our property taxes by raising our income taxes. Personally, I’d rather retain local control of spending and pay it throught property taxes than send the money to Trenton and have them decide what to do with it.

  6. Lex,
    We are already sending $6 Million+ a year to the state in income tax revenues alone, they just keep cutting how much state aid they give back. In the last 5 years we have dropped from 9% state aid to 4%. If you look at the numbers, this is the biggest single reason our property taxes have been going up.
    Personally, no one has convinced me that, statewide, more state aid is needed, although it is certainly possible. What I am convinced of is that the current distribution of state aid is unfair, immoral, and, I believe, unconstitutional (The U.S. Constitution, not the worse than worthless piece of crap we have here in NJ – which I maintain is one of the worst state constitutions in the country). There is already a lot of state aid. Statewide, the average amount of state aid is 44% (remember, Glen Ridge gets 4%).
    As bad as it has been, S-1701 makes it even worse because it takes away the local community’s ability to make up the difference and spend what they deem appropriate to educate their own children, all while the state is draining us of income tax money that was supposed to be for property tax relief.
    One of the most important things discussed was the need to tie state aid to school population, something the state refuses to do because they would rather dole out the spoils for their own political benefit.
    As far as who to complain to, people should start with the acting governor and their state senator and assembly representatives.

  7. Carl –
    I agree with you on every point. I’m just skeptical that the state will actually cut funding to anything else to make up for increased school spending. And, if given a chance to open the spending spigots, I doubt the new largesse will fall disproportionately on Glen Ridge.
    I would rather see all state aid abolished everywhere and a reduction in income taxes. Then you can go ahead and raise my property taxes and I won’t make a peep. But that won’t happen.
    If you leave S-1701 in place for a couple of years, the resulting chaos might make it easier to achieve fundamental reform.

  8. Carl –
    Out of curiousity, I assume the $6 million+ number is income taxes sent by GR residents to the state. Where did you get that number? I’ve never seen it before.

  9. Lex,
    I certainly can understand that skepticism; I have a lot of it myself. That said, what other choice do we have but to keep fighting for what is right? We must demand a fair system for funding public schools, and vociferously object to anything that takes us even further from that objective (like S-1701).
    We cannot lose sight of the fact that, in spite of the extreme unfairness of the current state funding scheme, GR is still providing a pretty decent education to the children in the GR Public Schools. While your idea about letting S-1701 wreak havoc for a few years might work, I’m not willing to sacrifice the education of a generation of GR students (not to mention our property values) to find out.
    As far as the $6M+ figure, I think I got it off the state website last year. I’ll see if I can find it for you.

  10. Carl –
    You’re right, of course.
    Don’t spend too much time looking for the $6million. It just seemed low, at $3000 per household.

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