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LeeAnn Carlson: Why I'm Running For Councilor-At-Large

Carlson talks about how she would improve services while reducing costs

 

LeeAnn Carlson is on the 2012 election ballot for a seat as councilor-at-large with the Real Progress Montclair slate. The following is a press release from Real Progress Montclair that includes questions posed by the slate. The slate is headed by mayoral candidate Karen Turner.

REAL PROGRESS MONTCLAIR: What made you want to go into Montclair politics?

I decided to run for Town Council because I see a need for real, strategic thinking in Montclair’s government. 

My own property taxes almost doubled between 2003 and 2009. My husband and I had lived in two other towns before Montclair, where the property taxes rarely, if ever, increased. I started to worry about what these escalating taxes, with no end in sight, would mean for Montclair residents 10 years from now --- and how they might affect the sustainability and diversity of the town.

The truth is that Montclair is becoming increasingly unaffordable, and haphazard cutting will not solve the problem. What we need is an entirely new approach.

REAL PROGRESS MONTCLAIR: What is your professional background?

I have a bachelor of science in engineering from Michigan State University, and a career as a management consultant for Andersen Consulting and as a brand manager for IBM. What I liked best about both jobs was the focus on problem solving. My career was about studying an industry, market, or company to look for inefficiencies and then create solutions to address the opportunity.

REAL PROGRESS MONTCLAIR: How would you apply your professional experience to an approach for Montclair?

When I first moved to Montclair, I was raising young children and wasn’t focused on what was happening in our town government. I was part of the 70% of registered Montclair voters who are active and engaged at the national level, but who don’t vote in the local elections. In the last election, I was so energized and invested in Obama’s campaign that I wasn’t even thinking about our own municipal election. I see now that what happens at the municipal level touches people’s lives just as much – different issues, but ultimately important in a very real way.

Three years ago I became very concerned that Montclair was on an unsustainable path, without an eye to the future. I decided to get involved to see how things might be done differently. So in 2010 I became a founding member of Concerned Citizens of Montclair (CCM) to see if I could use my professional experience to help research ways to modernize Montclair’s operations. Karen Turner brought her expertise on the financial side, while I focused on what other towns have been doing to provide better services at a lower cost. We did find areas that I would describe as low hanging fruit (e.g., poor use of outsourcing, a large fleet of personal cars, very high administrative overhead). The deeper we looked, the more we found. But in the end, the real answer doesn’t lie in cutting current expenses. The greater opportunity will be to change to a management culture that relies on true accountability, at all levels.

The RPM slate fervently believes that we must invest in our schools and libraries if Montclair is to have a bright future.  We need a vision and a sound foundation if we are to create opportunities for businesses.  And the only way we can make these crucial investments is if we dramatically change both our cost structure and how we manage our operations.  We must change the mindset of our government to one that works on the behalf of the residents and for the future health of the town. 

REAL PROGRESS MONTCLAIR: What do you suggest?

To improve services while reducing cost, our government needs to shift to an organization that focuses on customer-service, innovation and efficiency. Cities and towns across the country are grappling with the same issues as Montclair. Some of these cities have successfully changed to become organizations that foster collaboration, accountability, and transparency. The result has been reduced costs, increased customer satisfaction, and greater job satisfaction. While these various approaches have been studied and adopted by many others, I think Montclair’s current management culture is resistant to change.

We need real accountability in our government. Right now goals aren’t set, performance isn’t measured, expenses are not tracked to budget on a monthly basis, and employees are not reviewed. Other towns have found that “things that get measured --- are things that get done”. 

Our current government isn’t focused on customer service. This leads to a gradual degradation of service levels. Ultimately, it doesn’t serve the long-term interests of those employed by the town either. I say this as someone who grew up in the suburbs of Detroit, the daughter of autoworkers – my dad middle management, my mom union. I saw an industry erode over time; companies with a culture that went from strong to complacent, with a workforce that wasn’t focused on the future. It was hard to imagine 20 years ago, when I was still living in Detroit, but today the management culture at Ford – my parents’ company - is very different. What had become stagnant and without vision, is now becoming collaborative and forward thinking.

REAL PROGRESS MONTCLAIR: What is the parallel between Montclair and the car companies?

At the Town Council meetings, when pressed to keep taxes down and do things more efficiently, some on the town council kept insisting that ‘Montclair is special’, ‘you need to pay more to live here’. It made me think of the car companies in the 80s, and their insistence that people in the US would never prefer “those Japanese cars” to a car “Built in the USA”. They were sure that our cars were “better built, better looking”. Then a few years later, as things started to slip it became “ours are just as good!” Then, “we can’t compete: our union costs are too high”. Without self-awareness the world can change and you don’t realize it until it’s too late.  

I do believe that Montclair is truly special and holds a unique spot in the tri-state area. But I also believe we are short-changing the future of our town if we don’t take a thoughtful approach to how we do things.

REAL PROGRESS MONTCLAIR: Where would you start?

With the big picture. The people I speak with agree that Monclair’s commitment to a diverse community is part of what brought them here. If this is to include economic diversity, we need to make Montclair more affordable. The question becomes, “How are we going to make it happen? How can we keep costs down and still invest in our schools and our future?”

RPM will start by doing a fiscal audit to create transparency into how our money has been spent and where it is going. 

At the same time, we will do a top-down analysis of Montclair’s municipal organization and identify areas of opportunity. We have a top-heavy management structure with very high costs. There are savings that can be found through reorganization and combining departments. Sharing services with the schools needs to analyzed, and the opportunities quantified. One example is the maintenance of buildings and grounds, including purchasing of equipment and materials. 

Outsourcing non-essential functions needs to be part of the analysis. There are several areas that lend themselves to outsourcing. Areas frequently considered are engineering, back-office procedures like billing, and yes, trash and recycling. The reason trash and recycling is often outsourced is because there is a lot of competition and private companies have economies of scale, more modern equipment and are more focused on efficiency. Trash is also frequently outsourced because it has very high capital expenses and is an area of significant savings. Millburn voted unanimously to outsource trash and recycling just four months ago. Their very detailed analysis – which included all internal expenses, not just salaries and benefits - found they were able to cut their costs in half, resulting in a five-year savings of $4.5M. Morristown outsourced their trash two years ago and also realized a 50% savings. Montclair’s internal costs are much higher than either Millburn’s or Morristown’s, so the potential savings are even greater. Montclair must be willing to have an objective, substantive, and informed conversation on this topic.

The questions we should be asking are: How can we reduce costs but provide the same or better services? What structural changes can yield results? How can we ensure a town government that is both responsive to its residents and supportive of its employees? 

The foundation for real and effective change is accountability. The members of the RPM slate will pass resolutions to adopt a management framework that requires the use of regular follow-up, real metrics, and closely managed budgets. It takes time to change the management culture of an organization and it cannot happen without absolute commitment from the top. But it can be done, and other towns are doing it. Montclair can too.

REAL PROGRESS MONTCLAIR: Where does that leave us?

Real Progress Montclair will develop a strategic plan for Montclair, to see where our town could be in 10 years, 20 years. And we will find the most  effective way to get there. It will be essential to change our structural costs so we can do more, with fewer resources. At the same time, we need to shift our management culture to one that requires real accountability; we need management that sets goals, measures results and has consequences. A vibrant, forward-thinking Montclair must include a management culture that stresses customer-service and innovation.

REAL PROGRESS MONTCLAIR: Why RPM?

I do believe Montclair is a strong, cohesive community, with residents who will welcome a group dedicated to strategic, thoughtful change. I don’t believe it will be easy, but I do believe that with the right people in office it can be done.

 

 

Right of Center April 06, 2012 at 10:27 PM
It's the "most of (if, not all)" part I was questioning in your statement.
spotontarget April 06, 2012 at 11:59 PM
LeeAnn's analysis and turn-around proposals are precisely the kind of analytical and evaluative thinking we need. No one is going to agree 100% on everything. But by engaging in this kind of thinking and evaluative process, more often than not - the person will get it right.
Kyle Martinowich April 07, 2012 at 12:43 AM
LeeAnn, Your follow ups and personal interactions were great. Thank you for sharing and being part of the conversation.
tryintosurvive April 07, 2012 at 03:07 AM
LeeAnn, Great analogy with the car companies. It really hit home with me. The declining value of Montclair homes is starting to sink significantly for many of us. In doing a recent refinance, I had my home appraised twice within the last year. My home has gone down in value 20% over that time. I was shocked, but these are real numbers. I hope the townspeople wake up and realize that electing people like yourself is the only way to get Montclair back on the right track.
LeeAnn Carlson April 07, 2012 at 12:59 PM
ROC, I forgot to get back to you on the 'why isn't SomerStat part of RPM's platform'. It actually is, but it's referred to as CitiStat, which is the program that SomerStat is based on. If you go to our website and look under Platform/Affordability you can find the information on CitiStat. Both the Kennedy School and a group at IBM have published analyses about why these programs work, along with implementation guidelines and critical success factors. And Andrew, I do think we should look to both MSU and Rutgers to see if they have students who would be interested in internships. I see that Rutgers does offer workshops on teaching city leaders how to move to a competitive, customer-service oriented model. On speaking with someone from Somerville, I hear that they target recent grads from government programs to take the CitiStat analyst jobs. The grads see it as a stepping stone to higher level government jobs. Good for students, good for the town.
john clue April 07, 2012 at 01:20 PM
I must admit that from my earlier posting until now Ms. Carlson is at least showing she wants people to understand how she thinks which I like. I thank her for always getting back to the more pertinent parts of this discussion. I do appreciate your looking at other models and solutions. I would like to have this type of "discussion" with the other candidates so we, as the people of Montclair, can make an informed vote. Good work on the other's parts for drilling down on the details.
ira shor April 07, 2012 at 03:48 PM
Thank you Ms. Carlson for responses. Can I pls ask: 1. Will you and RPM cancel the DCH development project TC handed to the Siena Group which is being sued by some residents there? DCH dev will add 329 families and further crowd our already over-crowded classrooms. 2. Do you and RPM support the $1mil South Park beautification? Is that what we can expect from you and RPM if you win? 3. You praise BOE head Shelley Lombard as did Ms. Turner. Ms. Lombard and BOE claim they had no idea they were sitting on huge surpluses when they cut health care for 220 families of aides. They then dumped the surplus into laps of a dysfunctional TC instead of using it to lowering class size. Is this good school mgmnt? Isn't this the BOE going after "low-hanging fruit"? 4. Will you and RPM ban leaf-blowers which current TC threw under bus despite leaf-blowers unpopularity and toxic danger to town? Other towns nearby have banned leaf-blowers. Why isn't this a local policy example RPM mentions? 5. BOE has not reported on success of recovering out-of-district spec ed placements for in-district savings. This is a huge BOE cost item with large potential savings, not low-hanging fruit like cutting the essential, low-wage aides. How will you and RPM deal with bringing spec ed placements back into district? Thank you for your responses.
A. Gideon April 07, 2012 at 04:13 PM
"They then dumped the surplus into laps of a dysfunctional TC instead of using it to lowering class size." How exactly do you see the BOE giving money to the TC? In fact, the BOE is trying to find a way to pass money to the TC specifically for debt reduction, but state law makes this more than a bit tricky in how it enforces a separation of funds, at least in this type of district. "BOE has not reported on success of recovering out-of-district spec ed placements for in-district savings." This was mentioned a few times at least during the budget presentations in the past meetings. I don't recall the numbers off-hand, but a number of students have been brought in. I remember this being cited as a basis for a drop in transportation costs, but I imagine that it also reduced a line item for tuition (though that may have been balanced by higher spending for the staff in-district). ...Andrew
ira shor April 07, 2012 at 05:03 PM
BOE chose anti-tax fever rather than our children's needs. BOE budget was under the Gov's 2% cap, below zero net, best choice was to invest the "surprise" surplus in lowering class size and assigning f/t essential aides to all classes. Instead, BOE dumped its "surprise" surplus into laps of a dysfunctional TC, helped cover TC's financial commitment of town to unwise DCH overdevelopment, unwise Wildwood overdevelopment, and unwise $1mil beautification splurge for South Park. Funds BOE returned to TC enabled TC spending unwisely. BOE saved us all of $131 by cutting aides's health care--does this make Lombard's mgmnt an example for RPM candidates and others running for office? Ms. Carlson was honorably responsible in addressing questions but the BOE cuts and abuse of the aides is not addressed yet. Where do our candidates stand on BOE and the biggest cost and biggest asset this town has, its public schools?
ira shor April 07, 2012 at 05:17 PM
BOE should focus intensely on returning out-of-district spec ed kids to our own town schls, better for the kids and their families and for the town. We need detailed reports on this progress from BOE--how many kids returned from where to which schls at what cost savings and what outcomes for the schols, the kids and their families, not brief mentions. Candidates who want to show their concern for our public schls should be addressing this policy issue instead of foggily praising BOE for "strengthening our schls," The savings from return of OOD kids could yield twice as much each year as gained from BOE killing health ins for the aides, but BOE would have to keep its eyes on the prize(smart educ policy and civic leadership) and not be blinded by the anti-tax fever gripping the slates and others in town.
Right of Center April 07, 2012 at 05:18 PM
In fact, the BOE is trying to find a way to pass money to the TC specifically for debt reduction, but state law makes this more than a bit tricky in how it enforces a separation of funds, at least in this type of district." How so? State law specifically calls for surpluses of this kind to be used only for tax relief. What state law are you speaking of?
A. Gideon April 07, 2012 at 06:53 PM
"State law specifically calls for surpluses of this kind to be used only for tax relief." Actually, that's not quite correct. The law mandates that surpluses - beyond a certain level, and with certain exceptions - be used as revenue in the next budget formed. People keep calling this "tax relief" but that's merely wishful thinking. There's nothing that mandates that that new budget use that "surplus as revenue" to offset other revenue; it could just as easily go to new spending (and plenty of people have been requesting precisely that). It bugs me how often politicians gloss over this important distinction. Our BOE [mostly] chose the "tax relief" approach this year, but a different BOE could have done differently. It's yet another reason why mayoral candidates' potential role in BOE appointments requires such scrutiny. This is the only control we voters have. The exceptions include moving of some part of the surplus into areas such as a Capital Reserve, which this BOE also did. That's a "second best" to paying off existing debt, but the best they could do for now. Unfortunately, our district doesn't have its own debt. District debt is issued by the town. But there's apparently no obvious way for school funds to pay down that debt. That's the asymmetry that puzzles me. "What state law are you speaking of?" I don't recall off-hand; I'm sure you could find it. ...Andrew
ira shor April 07, 2012 at 07:16 PM
All the more reason BOE should have invested its "surprise" millions into school needs, like lowering class size, like accelerating OOD spec ed students' return to district, a wise policy choice which will keep the kids closer to home and included in their towns' schools, while also providing serious revenue savings to all of us, not the peanuts BOE jumped for in killing aides's health care. BOE must put civic leadership first, not anti-tax zealotry, not demonizing MEA, b/c too much is riding on the success of our public schools. When will candidates speak to the town's voters about their vision of civic leadership for the schools? The silence is deafening.
A. Gideon April 07, 2012 at 07:28 PM
"best choice was to invest the "surprise" surplus in lowering class size and assigning f/t essential aides to all classes." As was noted repeatedly during the recent budget presentations, any new spending had to be such that it wouldn't overly increase costs in future years. Your proposal fails that test (unless your plan is to hire for a year or two, and then fire as the surplus disappears). "Instead, BOE dumped its "surprise" surplus into laps of a dysfunctional TC," I'm asking you to explain this unsubstantiated statement again, but it sounds a good deal like fiction to me. "The savings from return of OOD kids could yield twice as much each year as gained from BOE killing health ins for the aides" Can you substantiate this? There is definitely savings, but keep in mind that there are costs as well. More, as you note, this can only be implemented for those students that would thrive at least as well in-district. You seem to be advocating that this process be rushed, but I think that that could very easily be a serious error for those students. A slow and considered approach seem far more appropriate where the stakes are so high for students so vulnerable. ...Andrew
Right of Center April 07, 2012 at 08:37 PM
http://law.onecle.com/new-jersey/18a-education/7f-7.html "In the 2005-2006 school year and thereafter, an undesignated general fund balance in excess of 2% of the budgeted general fund for the prebudget year or $250,000, whichever is greater, shall be appropriated by a school district for the purpose of the budget prepared pursuant to section 5 of this act. The amount of any funds made available for appropriation as a result of the reduction in the percentage of authorized undesignated general fund balance pursuant to P.L.2004, c.73 shall be used to reduce the general fund tax levy required for the budget year." "shall be used to reduce the general fund tax levy required for the budget year." Seems like more than wishful thinking to me Andrew. http://www.nj.gov/education/finance/fp/af/s1701/faq.shtml "Reduces maximum surplus amounts to 3% in 2004-05 and 2% in 2005-06 and beyond, and requires the excess surplus to be used for tax relief (revision to N.J.S.A. 18A:7F-7);" "requires the excess surplus to be used for tax relief" seems, uh, rather "forceful" to me too.
A. Gideon April 08, 2012 at 12:33 AM
"shall be used to reduce the general fund tax levy required for the budget year." Note that it makes no mention of the spending side. Nothing prevents the spending from rising as much as this boost in revenue. I'll admit that one could still call this "tax relief" of a sort, but I would not consider that a reasonable interpretation of the term. In that case, this additional revenue is merely funding new spending. As a taxpayer, I'd not see that as "relief". "requires the excess surplus to be used for tax relief" Ah...perhaps this FAQ is where this idea of "tax relief" originated. As I described above, though, this is wishful thinking. A BOE could choose to use the money to fund additional spending and the law would still be satisfied. Happily, that's not the direction our BOE took this year. But that says nothing for what future boards, appointed by the current and next mayor, might or might not do. ...Andrew
A. Gideon April 08, 2012 at 12:37 AM
BTW: I looked at that site, and couldn't find anything that describes (or mandates) that our school district's debt is actually issued by the town. That's the part that puzzles me, in that the district - according to our business administrator - can add to that debt but not contribute directly to its retirement. If you can find something to explain this, I'd be pleased to receive it. I think it has to do with our being a type I (1) district and having a BOSE, but I'm not sure. ...Andrew
Right of Center April 08, 2012 at 05:26 AM
"Note that it makes no mention of the spending side. Nothing prevents the spending from rising as much as this boost in revenue." Well, except the NJ State Department of Education website also says, "Tightens the annual cap on school budget increases by: reducing the base growth to 2.5% or CPI" So what you're saying is that the NJ State Department of Education's website gets the law wrong, but you get it right? It's plainly stated in the state's own website. I think you just have to admit when you are wrong on the facts.
ira shor April 08, 2012 at 03:35 PM
BOE finance group last year showed big costs for OOD spec ed placements; solution was OOD recovery to reduce by half the $65K+/child cost to send kids to other towns. A smart and civic BOE would have aggressively pursued this big-dollar item instead of small potatoes from targeting low-wage essential aides(measly $131per ratable). Harvey Susswein made an articulate presentation at BOE mtg on OOD recovery to lower budget while enhancing inclusive education. A wise BOE would have moved full-speed here and avoided provoking town conflict and fear with bogus cries of budget crisis("surprise" surpluses 2 yrs in a row). Mr. G apparently joins Karen Turner in applauding toxic BOE cuts of aides; he excuses BOE for slow-boating OOD plan where real money is. Investing big in OOD recovery to move it along as quickly as possible is smart policy BOE ignored. The more you invest in it, the more you expedite the new policy. But the BOE was embarrassed by its own surpluses and dumped them as quickly as possible into laps of a dysfunctional TC which spends $1mil to beautify one business street, hires a clouded builder to renovate DCH whose overbuilt 329 new apts. will further crowd the schools, which dumps town money to overdevelop Wildwood(for Mr. G-some TC dysfunctions). BOE budget was already under Gov's cap, no need to throw more away. Needed: professional educators leading BOE who have heads for finance instead of finance/management professionals who are clueless about education.
A. Gideon April 09, 2012 at 01:47 PM
"A smart and civic BOE would have aggressively pursued this big-dollar item instead of small potatoes from targeting low-wage essential aides(measly $131per ratable)." And do you remember the number of children involved? Your comparison of a per-student number to an average-per-household number would appear to indicate a deliberate attempt to obfuscate. "A wise BOE would have moved full-speed here" This depends upon what is meant by "full-speed". If you mean "at a reasonable pace that takes care of these students", then I agree. If you mean that the pace should be set for Mr. Shor's budgetary purposes, then I disagree. That type of haste could be very costly for those students. "dumped them as quickly as possible into laps of a dysfunctional TC" Yet again you make this statement with no basis in fact or even reality, and despite being repeatedly asked to explain it. You've this ready answer looking for questions, and I expect that you'll be repeating this answer as often as possible while paying little attention to the actual questions. Repetition doesn't replace reality, however. ...Andrew
A. Gideon April 09, 2012 at 02:05 PM
"So what you're saying is that the NJ State Department of Education's website gets the law wrong, but you get it right?" The FAQ does get it wrong, yes. Perhaps deliberately wrong; that I couldn't say. But I could see that being done for political reasons. "Well, except the NJ State Department of Education website also says, "Tightens the annual cap on school budget increases by: reducing the base growth to 2.5% or CPI"" The cap makes a difference, and does provide an upper bound. But there's still nothing which dictates that spending cannot be increased to partially or even completely consume a surplus fed into a budget from a previous year. We might not have seen some of the new technology investment, for example, or the return of some SACs, if we'd not that surplus feeding into our new budget. [Or maybe we would have, and we'd have also had a tax increase. That's part of the problem, I expect: How can the law "see" what would have occurred had there been no surplus?] "It's plainly stated in the state's own website." It's plainly stated in the FAQ. Unfortunately, that doesn't correspond to the law, at least that you've cited so far. "I think you just have to admit when you are wrong on the facts." I'd be very happy to be wrong about this. So far, though, nothing indicates any disagreement with my explanation of the law except for a FAQ or description that is not an actual part of the law. ...Andrew
Right of Center April 09, 2012 at 02:58 PM
the law, as plainly stated above, limits the surplus to 2% of the budget ( min $250k). anything in excess "shall be used to reduce the general fund tax levy required for the budget year." it's in the law. I'm not sure how you are interpreting those two facts. Perhaps the publishers of the law at onecle.com are in on the conspiracy with the FAQ writers at the Department of education? And you, Andrew Giedon alone, have discovered this willful misstatement of the law? None of 600 school districts which have to live under the law have discovered the state is "deliberately wrong" (lying) for "political reasons"? Or any of the unions? Or any of the advocacy groups which fought a bitter campaign against this law? Since 2005, when the law went into effect and that FAQ was published on the Dept of Education Website? (or is that published date part of the conspiracy?) Nobody has noticed for 7 years, except you?
A. Gideon April 09, 2012 at 04:41 PM
"it's in the law. I'm not sure how you are interpreting those two facts." There's nothing in the law that prevents spending from being increased to consume the surplus being fed from a previous year. It's that simple. Find something that prevents this, and I'd be pleased. So far, neither you nor I have found any such thing. "None of 600 school districts which have to live under the law have discovered the state is "deliberately wrong" (lying) for "political reasons"?" I don't know that the districts are lying. I do know that some politicians like to claim that surplus must be used for tax relief. They may be lying, or they simply may be repeating what they've been told (or even read in the FAQ). Or, as I've written, it could be wishful thinking: a hope that a given BOE wouldn't use a surplus to fund new spending. As an aside: Given the requests for spending the surplus on staffing costs like granting benefits to the aides, I have to assume that the union is aware that a surplus can be spent. "Nobody has noticed for 7 years, except you?" I'm sure that business administrators know that they are not actually prevented from increasing spending to consume a surplus. More, as I wrote above, the union appears to be clear on the truth of the law. ...Andrew
Terry Gorman April 09, 2012 at 04:53 PM
Tell it Straight, hasn't told anything straight on these blogs, when it comes to RPM, yet. Last week he attempted a "Swift Boat" type attack on this slate of 2 Independents and 2 Democrats, by attempting to link them to the Tea Party. This slate is proposing saving the town $100K right off the bat by foregoing the benefit package. There is at least one candidate on this slate that is self-employed and currently spending more than the $25K that this package costs the town, to insure himself and his family. Tell it Straight doesn't mention that Town Council members can accept a cash equivalent of the benefits package value, if they don't need or want the benefits. This slate is foregoing either option. Tell it Straight is obviously backing a slate that is not williing to put their cost cutting promises on the line. There is nothing disingenious regarding RPM's stance on this matter and I just can't understand why the other part time Council candidates are willing to match this cost savings measure.
A. Gideon April 09, 2012 at 07:04 PM
Yet you've still not actually found anything that discusses spending of a surplus? Well, I do appreciate your searching for this. ...Andrew
Right of Center April 09, 2012 at 07:24 PM
Incorrect. There is much about spending of the surplus and the formulas for determining the cap. It's in the law, and the code (follow the link in the faq) It's a complex formula. I'm not your librarian nor tutor and don't want to invest the time in tweezing it out for you. Both the State Department of Education and their negotiating opposition the NJEA summarize the cap. Even the NJ School Boards Association which bitterly opposed the S1701 agrees. "S1701 reduces the size of districts spending growth limitations (the cap on the entire operating budget) to the greater of 2.5% or the Consumer Price Index (CPI)." http://www.njsba.org/press_releases/S1701-analysis-Web.htm "S-1701 (Ch. 73, P.L. 2004). That McGreevey administration law limited school budget surplus to 2%" http://www.njsba.org/sb_notes/20051201/s1701.html http://bit.ly/IBzNeR You should let them know they ALL got it wrong. I'm sure they'd appreciate knowing all the lobbying and public-energizing is unneeded. You'd probably save thousands of people a lot of wasted time, Andrew. Here's how it works. Any surplus in the operating budget over 2% Imust be used for property tax relief. Growth in the budget is limited to 2.5% (or CPI if greater) per year.
A. Gideon April 09, 2012 at 07:43 PM
"Here's how it works. Any surplus in the operating budget over 2% Imust be used for property tax relief. Growth in the budget is limited to 2.5% (or CPI if greater) per year." That's terrific...except that this still doesn't prevent the surplus from being used to offset spending that would otherwise not occur. The cap may put an upper bound on the spending, but that's not terribly helpful (except in an extreme case). Consider our own current case. The BOE increased spending in a couple of areas such as technology investment and rehiring of some SACs. Because of the surplus, this spending did not increase taxes. Had the BOE created the same budget w/o the surplus, we'd have had a tax increase. So was this tax relief? What if the BOE, absent a surplus, would not have included that additional spending? In that case, even with no surplus we'd still have seen no tax increase. In that case, the BOE used some of the surplus to fund additional spending. You can point at the cap all you want. It doesn't address this. If you think that the BOE spending surplus money on the SACs or technology or the other [small, happily] areas where spending was increased is a violation of the law, perhaps you should let someone know. ...Andrew
Right of Center April 09, 2012 at 08:01 PM
We're talking about the surplus the montclair BOE has which is LARGER than 2%. Only 2% of the surplus can be carried over to next year's budget. (the TC should CUT next's years by 2% BECAUSE of that 2% extra they have). The REMAINDER of the surplus (don't know the figure, $3.5 million $4 million some odd) which is in EXCESS of the 2% allowed, as the law says "shall be used to reduce the general fund tax levy required for the budget year." So next year's tax levy for the schools MUST be reduced by that amount in excess of the 2%" It should all be tax relief for next year. The 2% allowed to carry over that the TC should (but is not required to) reduce the levy by. And the remainder which MUST by law be used to reduce the tax levy.
A. Gideon April 09, 2012 at 09:40 PM
"We're talking about the surplus the montclair BOE has which is LARGER than 2%." Yes. "Only 2% of the surplus can be carried over to next year's budget." 2% (or a bit more given exceptions and such) can be carried on the balance sheet as surplus into the following year. The remainder must be used as revenue. I'm pretty sure we're in agreement on this. "(the TC should CUT next's years by 2% BECAUSE of that 2% extra they have)" Given that the TC isn't involved in the school's budget, I'm not sure what you mean. The BOE perhaps? But the question when cutting is always: from what baseline? As you'll see below, I think that this may be our point of mutual confusion. "The REMAINDER of the surplus (don't know the figure, $3.5 million $4 million some odd) which is in EXCESS of the 2% allowed, as the law says "shall be used to reduce the general fund tax levy required for the budget year."" Note that there's nothing about spending in this description. So keep going... "So next year's tax levy for the schools MUST be reduced by that amount in excess of the 2%"" Again: from what baseline? If you were to presume that the SACs (just choosing one example) would have been rehired even had that led to a tax increase, then what you describe is what occurred. If, on the other hand, the BOE would have eschewed that hiring so as to keep the tax flat were there no surplus then the surplus was used to fund additional spending. ...Andrew
Ed Peters May 06, 2012 at 02:54 PM
Baristanet: “Carlson revealed that she has not voted for a Montclair office in municipal elections during the 10 years that she has lived in town…” Now that kind of record, one would think, is a political career limiting move. How could you even dream of running for public office with that kind of non-participation in your own town? The geniuses in your campaign “brain” trust deserve some of the credit. Or didn’t you reveal to them, either? Weren’t you or they aware those kinds of blemishes are public record?

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