To the Editor,
In February, Dr. Stella presented the proposed 2015-2016 budget to the WBOF (Woodbridge Board of Finance) – WBOS (Woodbridge Board of Selectmen). The requested increase of about $400,000 or roughly 3%, was not a surprise. For a number of years, the WBOE (Woodbridge Board of Education) has deployed the very useful managerial tool of projecting each newly approved budget for 5 years. The most recent iteration of that study on the 2014-2015 budget, which had been shared with the WBOF – WBOS, projected a rise in costs of about 3%.
The 2015-2016 budget had been endorsed by the WBOE unanimously. Eighty percent of the cost increase arises by virtue of contractual obligations. Those costs can only be cut by downsizing, which, in the face of an expanding school population, is not an option. The remaining part of the increase is fundamental to the realization of the mission. It is not discretionary.
There were no questions asked of Dr. Stella. It was observed that the supporting data offered by Dr. Stella were “incontrovertible”. That is very high praise!
Now we learn that the WBOF – WBOS had acted to reduce the WBOE 2015-2016 budgetary request by about $50,000 and the Technology budgetary request by about $60,000. Happily, the immediate impact of the current reduction in the 2015-2016 budget will be marginal! The success of the recent early retirement incentive appears to offer savings in faculty costs in the next fiscal year of about $50,000, approximately equal to the cut in funding. The original 2015-2016 budgetary request provided for no such savings, since the existence of an offer and the success each year of an offer, if one is made, are highly uncertain.
In addition, another stroke of good fortune; it appears that there will be a favorable operating variance at year-end, sufficient, if the WBOE chooses to do so, to provide most of the resulting shortfall in support for technology in 2015-2016.
So what is there to worry about? If you say, “Nothing,” I believe you are mistaken!
Dr. Stella has stated the reason justifying the cuts: These are “hard times” in Woodbridge. It is not the purpose of this discussion to try to understand the source of the “hard times.” Rather, it is to voice a warning. Education is the only game in town! When someone threatens to harm the goose that lays the golden eggs, it is useful to cry out and be sure that the precious bird is protected and reasonably and appropriately nourished! That is what the original 2015-2016 budgetary request attempted to accomplish. That must be our objective into the foreseeable future!
There is another aspect of uncertainty of the budgetary action in response to “hard times”. There has been a longstanding agreement between the Stella administration and the Town Hall regarding the handling the costs of Special Education. When negative variances arise in Special Education by virtue of unforeseen, unbudgeted expenses in a given fiscal year, to the extent that there are positive variances available in the General Education budget, these negative variances will be offset internally. However, if the General Education budget is in balance at the time that the unexpected and unbudgeted costs in Special Education arise, the Town will fund that shortfall from other sources. The General Education Budget will not be held hostage to Special Education costs. Will this policy survive in these “hard times”? It must!