Superintendent Will Address School Spending Concerns at Special Meeting
The superintendent will respond to a series of resident-submitted questions submitted about the school budget and taxes at a public meeting in late September or early October.
The cost-conscious group of residents who call themselves the “Unhappy Taxpayers of Fair Lawn NJ,” are in the process of gathering school spending-related questions from within their ranks to pose to the district’s superintendent who has agreed to provide answers at a special public meeting next month.
Members of the group, whose stated mission is reduce taxes by reining in school and government spending, expressed concerns with the district’s teacher salaries and per pupil costs at the Board of Education meeting on July 19. They had approached the borough council asking for similar municipal spending justifications earlier in the month.
Board members responded to the group's concerns by explaining that in many cases the district’s spending is dictated by state requirements and noted that the amount of discretionary spending in each year’s budget is minimal. The growing number of non-native speakers and classified students in the district, and the specialized teachers who are needed to educate those students are responsible for the district’s slightly higher than average teacher salaries and per pupil classroom costs, superintendent Bruce Watson said.
“There is no district I know in Bergen County that speaks 47 different languages in the home and there is certainly no district that I know of that has 1,200 classified students to deal with, which means services that are extra,” Watson said. “We have got to hire people who have credentials to practice in their area, some of them are very,very rare and therefore more expensive.”
Sergey Karpov, the resident group’s leader, stated publicly that cutting costs to the extent it would impair students academically is not his intention. He believes, however, that the district is not being entirely forthright about its special ed spending.
“BoE uses special ed programs as an excuse for inflated budget,” Karpov wrote in a group Facebook post Tuesday. “I badly need numbers to prove that main expense comes from regular programs.”
Rather than respond extemporaneously to a series of budget-related questions from the group, Watson suggested that the residents take some time to cull together pointed questions about spending and email them to him. The advance notice would allow him to generate a thoughtful answer to each question that he would then share at a special public meeting in late September or early October.
“That’s the only way to do it,” Watson said by phone Tuesday. “And whether people like or dislike what I say is not important. What’s important is these are the facts. They can take that and do with it what they choose. I do think they deserve answers.”
"Unhappy Taxpayers" member Maria Farber said Wednesday that the group has yet to create a list of questions for the superintendent, but that it hopes to have some ready on paper by its next meeting on Aug. 23.