Post election hangover for district

BY Christopher Lang, Northern Valley Suburbanite, Published April 23, 2008

It was only one of two budgets in the Northern Valley that was shot down at the polls April 15.

But the impact will likely have a rippling effect as some voters and political leaders fault the district’s 4.5 percent salary increase that teachers will receive per year for the next three years as a main reason for the budget defeat.

“I know that the community was not real happy that the teachers got what they got,” said district Chief Administrator Sylvan Hershey. “But prior to this contract the teachers got a 4.9 percent increase per year. I thought we made some significant improvements for the taxpayers.”

A Northvale voter who wished to not give her name said April 15 that she voted against the budget because of the teacher contracts.

“They got more than they are entitled to and they think they did us a favor by adding 10 minutes to the day,” she said. “There is only so much we are able to put out of our pockets. They should not be rewarded for the way they treated the children while they had no contracts.”

She was just one of the 283 voters who said “No” to the budget that would have increased taxes by roughly 4.3 percent. It failed by more than 100 votes. “The school district is giving away the store and people are fed up. I think that is what the message is,” Assemblyman John Rooney said, who is also a Northvale resident. “Twenty years ago teachers were underpaid. But that is not true today.”

According to a 2004-05 teachers’ salary report published March 27, 2007 the average teacher salary in New Jersey was $56,635 —making New Jersey the third highest state for those salaries.

“People, in town, are starting to say, ‘We aren’t getting these types of raises in our jobs,’” Rooney said, who is a former mayor of the borough.

Hershey was hesitant to say if the proposed 21.6 percent municipal tax increase had any impact on voters April 15. Rather he said that people are probably getting tired of all the municipal, state and federal increases and the only way they can voice their frustration is to reject the school budget.

“Life is about timing,” he said. “I don’t think those [Northern Valley Suburbanite articles about the municipal budget] helped us. I am sure if a parent or citizen read those articles that may have made them not too excited about the tax increase. I don’t think it helped us.”

However, the Northvale mayor wasn’t afraid to place part of the blame on the municipal budget.

“This year there is a 21 percent tax increase that was ridiculously introduced by the council,” Mayor John Hogan said. “I think the municipal increase had a lot to do with it.”

What’s next?

School officials will have to review the defeated budget and propose cuts at an upcoming council meeting.

When that meeting comes, the council has a couple of options. Council members could propose a dollar amount that needs to be cut, leaving school officials to cut programs or staff to reach that level. Or, the council could ultimately approve whatever cuts school officials present at a public meeting.

State law provides room for the council to keep the defeated budget at its’ current levels, although that move would contradict the April 15 vote.

But that last option is not likely to happen, Hogan said.

“We have to act upon how the voters voted,” Hogan said. “I think, though, we should focus on cuts to non-educational programs.” “It wasn’t like a minor defeat. I think we have to act how the taxpayers voted,” he said. “I think everything is going to be looked at. And we will make some recommendations because the voters have spoken.”

“Now, hopefully when we go before the mayor and council,” they won’t make too many changes Hershey said. “We already made a budget presentation to them and got a favorable response.”

However, he doesn’t think there is much room for the council to make cuts. “We had to cut the budget to make that 4 percent cap,” he said. “We managed to get the budget to reflect that amount. But we will do our best.”