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January  30

'Poor Little Rich District'

Auditorium_seats_2Torn auditorium seats -- despite mansions on Ridgewood Ave. and an average household income of $105,638. Oh the humanity!

The Star-Ledger writes today about Glen Ridge's school funding crisis. Sure. True. It's patently unfair that Glen Ridge only gets 5 percent of its school budget paid for by the state, compared to an average of 42 percent for all other school districts. And we agree that the plush red seats in the Ridgewood School auditorium are deplorable. But we have to take issue with the description of the rest of the auditorium.

The walls are badly discolored. There's an old glass-enclosed ticket booth in the lobby, seemingly a remnant from another era. Half of the auditorium's chairs, in fact, are originals, dating to 1953.

A remnant from another era? The whole town is a remnant from another era. Dating to 1953? That wouldn't even qualify for historic status in Glen Ridge! Falling apart is one thing, but old? That's like complaining that the architecture of Williamsburg dates to the Colonial period.

Besides, that enclosed ticket booth is cute. Now the school e-mail system that works sometimes and doesn't work other times, on the other hand, that's a problem. And the property taxes...

January 30, 2005 in Scooped by Phil Read, Again | Permalink


If the Glen Ridge school system is in such bad shape, why is it ranked ( I believe } third in the state?

Posted by: Mike Morgan | Jan 31, 2005 10:20:46 AM

Mike -

The GR school system has been very highy ranked in the state, and spent far less than the average cost per pupil to get there. The problem is that S1701 has basically frozen the school budget at last year's level, regardless of things like fixing auditoriums or enrolling more students. This was a sop to the state's senior lobby who have been moaning about property taxes for the last two and a half centuries.

GR thus has a choice: spend what money it has on education or spend it on things like making the auditorium not look like a shambles. This choice will get harder and harder every year, until the quality of education necessarily declines due to overcrowded classrooms etc.

New Jersey seems to have decided that, since throwing money at the poorly performing school districts (some of the Abbott districts spend twice per student what GR spends) doesn't seem to have equalized educational results, choking the good districts will. In GR this will mean more and more privatization of the local school budget, more "pay to play" (play extracurricular activities, that is.) Many of the more fortunate GR residents will do so, of course, but the 25% or so of households in GR that have incomes less than $35k will have a hard time paying for pre-school, sports and whatever else has to be sacrificed to keep teachers in front of students.

And seniors, whose largest retirement asset is undoubtedly their house, will find that they no longer have quite as much saved as they thought, since the primary impetus behind GR's high house prices is the excellent school system.

So, in one fell stroke, NJ has managed to hurt the middle class and the elderly while helping absolutely no one.


Posted by: MiloG | Jan 31, 2005 11:29:14 AM

Ah, Milo - isn't there another alternative...

Get someone in this town to fight for the ground lost in a 42% vs. 5% state education allocation.

I'm glad local mayors have the time to collect themselves over tea and cogitate on secession issues. But I'd like to see my mayor in Trenton getting this town its fair share of state education money.

Trenton. Carl. A passionate articulation from our representative who has the weight & incentive to get things done at the state capitol. Results.

It's the only local photo of the mayor I'd like to see.

Posted by: waves2ya | Jan 31, 2005 12:43:52 PM


Haven't we had this conversation before?

I don't think that Carl's going to have much pull in Trenton (no offense, Carl). Representing a town that has no pull in Essex County, never mind statewide just isn't going to get anyone's attention. The only way to get their attention is to team up with other towns in the same predicament, which is what the change county government people seem to be doing. Perhaps after taking on Essex they can broaden their horizons and take on NJ.

Not that it matters that much to GR in aggregate, though. Since GR is one of the higher earning towns in the state, an overall increase in NJ school aid would be paid for disproportionately by people who live in GR. That is, for every extra $1 per person in school aid for GR, I would wager there's an extra $1.20 in income tax. Personally I would prefer to pay it locally and have some say over it than pay it to the state and watch most of it disappear.


Posted by: MiloG | Jan 31, 2005 1:07:46 PM

No, I don't think we have...

Maybe tea with other towns would work. Or effective clout/advocacy by whatever way we can get it (including paying consultants & an effective mayor).

Agreed that if the remedy is what you posit - Trenton advocacy is useless. We need someone to dispel your 'wager' otherwise privatizing the system is a creeping given.

Curious; What like towns would be on your 'team up' of choice...?

Posted by: waves2ya | Jan 31, 2005 1:24:50 PM

I was thinking of last September on the now-seemingly-defunct NJ.com forum...

Why do you think some other mayor than Carl would have more clout with Trenton?

I'm interested in the distribution of state aid for schools, but haven't had a chance to look at it yet. I've been told that the amount is determined using some pretty complicated formulas (including "computer modeling")--in other words, it's doled out as the politicians see fit.

The towns I would team up with would be pretty much all the non-Abbott districts, I would think.


Posted by: MiloG | Jan 31, 2005 1:59:19 PM

Because it's a stereotype of how politics is done. Because we've an unpaid mayoralty that must be the vestige of a different era when wealthy, connected dilatants won battles for their community (when they weren't playing golf). Don't know if Carl fits that mold (maybe more like Corzine & Bloomberg).

Anyhow - would be curious as to how many mayoralties in NJ are unpaid positions; then, which of like size and demographics as GR. In today's world, you often get what you pay for; I'd rather pay a mayor x amt to return y to our town from the state capitol. Likewise, I'd rather *pay* some entity (outside or otherwise) to examine the 'problems' in Glen Ridge and advise our town on how to move forward. Our town can't keep hoping the right group of neardowell PHD moms and dads with a couple of extra moments will get the job done. Otherwise I think we risk more that just tea with the town Montclair. Montclair handles our water. It handles our Fire Dept. Our Police Dept is a wreck. GR pre-K just went 'pay as you go'.

ROC is going to be here soon to inveigh on the merits of a Glen Ridge if it can't prove it is self sufficient.

Btw, the 'non-Abbott' districts would be pretty large number: http://www.state.nj.us/njded/abbotts/

And yes - we did discuss some of this on NJ.com. Didn't go very far. The Yahoo GR forum is pretty much 'a tree in the forest/sound of one hand clapping' affair (not because of your efforts). Someone here might defend our mayor/weigh-in and illuminate these issues in a way that didn't last time. If not, folks will continue to use the public school system, pay their taxes - deduct them - and shuffle this off to cocktail banter.

That's until they get wind that the schools are on the verge of sucking and they realize they've got to pay private institutions, with no eligible deductions, and GR's taxes - and move before the word gets out.

Posted by: waves2ya | Jan 31, 2005 3:15:46 PM


Your first post does a good job of laying out the State Aid for Education problem.

It is our #1 problem, but the County Property Tax bite is #2 (with a bullet), don't lose sight of that.

As far as your wager is concerned, I'd wager you'd lose, if only because State Aid for Education to GR is so extremely low relative to the rest of the state.

Some rough numbers (YMMV):

If your tax bill is $14,000, and your income is $110,000, that means, if you are married, you're paying roughly $3000 in NJ income taxes. At current State Aid to Education levels, if, instead of the current unfair system, each town were to receive the average amount of state aid, your property taxes would drop $3300 to $10,700, without increasing income taxes one dime. Of course, if your property taxes were $30k, you'd save about 7k.

How about if the state doubled the state aid, and paid for it exclusively with income taxes? (using numbers from the State's website) Well, your income taxes would go up $2700, to $5700. But what about your property taxes? If the State Aid were distributed fairly, your property taxes would be cut in half, down to $7000. Net tax savings for Mr & Mrs Glen Ridge Average Taxpayer = $4300. Savings to a single person would be about $3000. Incidentally, if you are married and make $300k and pay $30k in property taxes, even you would save about $2000 in this scenario.

Of course, without some controls on spending, and on sticky fingers in Trenton, there is no reason to believe we'd actually get the $ we're due, so any solution to this problem should deal with these issues as well.

Also, there are so many other variables that the above numbers can't take into account. I would only use these numbers to get a rough idea. Dramatic changes in the tax structure would have a big impact on property values, on the NJ economy, on other aid programs, and on wages and inflation, making it difficult to be as precise as I was in the examples above, but you get the general idea.

As far as having much impact in Trenton, you make a good point, it is an uphill climb. We are small, with very little direct pull or political clout, but as I have said before, does that mean we should just say "forget it"? I have been increasing our visibility in Trenton, and working on increasing the discussion about this issue in general. In addition, I have been developing our relationships with other towns locally and throughout the state, so that we will be in a better position to ensure our concerns are addressed when these decisions are made.

Posted by: Carl Bergmanson | Feb 1, 2005 8:21:19 PM

I, for one, am proud to have a numerate mayor.

Anyway, I think Carl may be substantially correct although given the number of variables it might take a little "computer modelling" of our own to be sure. Once we do that I will pay up the $0.20 on the wager.

Regardless, I agree that Change County Government is the initiative that has the most weight behind it right now and we should focus on that and on repealing S1701.


Posted by: MiloG | Feb 2, 2005 10:19:50 AM

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