I am writing in response to School Board Trustee Peter Biancamano's recent letter in your paper.
My initial letter expressed concern about his (and other members) "no" vote on the school budget after little or no participation in crafting that budget. Mr. Biancamano responded with a letter about an entirely different subject. He voiced his concern about a completely different vote made well over a year ago. In February of 2012, The HBOE, along with 500 other districts in New Jersey voted to consolidate their local elections to promote voter participation and save local districts money. His stated reason for his “no” vote was to "stand with the voiceless public" who no longer have a vote on the budget and "to stand up with the taxpayers of Hoboken". In my opinion, cold comfort to those taxpayers who I believe would expect someone to stay inside and fight, not stand outside on principal.
Creating a budget is a way of committing to established goals and funding those priorities moving forward. How would the world work if every official took his stance? No public vote? No participation? What of the local municipal budgets? Should Council members refuse to participate? What of the County Budget? Should the Freeholders not negotiate for their constituents? What of the charter school budgets? Should their board members not set priorities as there is no public vote on their budget?
I respect all my board colleagues on for their individual votes and opinions, however, I firmly believe, that especially regarding crafting a budget, all board members have a duty and responsibility to participate. In my opinion, being against a tax levy increase is certainly valid, but then not submitting any suggestions to lower the budget is not. We were elected to serve.
I would also like to offer some corrections to Mr. Biancamano letter, which I assume are mistakes and not intended to mislead. The total budget for all public K-12, charter and Early Childhood students is $64,300,000 (not $65). This total budget includes $10.1 million dedicated to the Early Childhood Program and $7.8 million to fund the three charter schools (as per state formula and almost exclusively from the local levy). The local tax levy (which is 26 percent of an individual tax bill along with municipal and county taxes) was increased by 3.98 percent. The increase was $1,460,000 not $2,000,000. The students supported is 3,158 not 2,200 as Mr. Biancamano claimed.
As I noted, the increase was needed for a variety of reasons, including the sequestration, increase in health care costs, past food service debt and a charter expansion. I choose to work with the administration and fellow board members to find a delicate balance that limited negative impacts on all publicly funded schools while finding savings and efficiencies where possible. I remain curious what plan Mr. Biancamano would have recommended to reduce the budget and continue the educational programming for all these students? How can you be a “voice” for the “voiceless” if you don't speak up?