Supt. Points to Difficult Budget Process Ahead
Brian Osborne anticipated "hard choices" to be made in his third annual State of the District speech.
In his third annual State of the District speech Wednesday night at the CHS library, Superintendent Brian Osborne spoke of the challenging budget process ahead and of sacrifices that would have to be made.
Osborne is to present a preliminary 2010-2011 budget to the Board of Education next week, though "it's hard to do without feedback from the state," he said. However, it seems clear that it will be a more painful process than last year, when the budget was approved with a 3.98 percent tax increase, the lowest in 20 years.
Last year's budget also included new teacher hires and no changes in class size or elimination of offerings at any level. Osborne attributed the ease of the process last year to four factors: two years of flat health insurance increases; a long-range facilities plan that allowed the district to move funds for operation to instruction; savings derived from outsourcing; and a surplus.
Though the district will continue to benefit from outsourcing, it's now confronted with a 23 percent increase in health insurance costs. Also, Gov. Corzine last month put out a revised spending plan that calls for cuts during the current fiscal year and would force the district to draw on its surplus. (The measure requires approval by the Legislature.) And based on Gov.-elect Chris Christie's constant allusions to the state's dire financial straits, state aid shouldn't be counted on. "Everyone is going to have to do more with less," he said.
When focusing his remarks on academic achievement, Osborne noted that the district had "miles to go" in closing the achievement gap but that some strides had been made in test scores. Most significantly, the number of AP test takers last year was up 24 percent across all ethnic groups, with 29 percent of tests receiving the top score of 5, indicating that access to top-flight instruction can be expanded "without watering down the rigor or the results," he said.
He also observed that strides had been taken to reduce the number of students receiving Fs and the number of suspensions, which dropped 21 last year over the previous year. "I'm really glad to see that we're taking other approaches and we're narrowing the scope of what we think are warranting circumstances for suspension," he said.
However, in terms of the achievement gap, Osborne acknowledged that "we've barely made a dent," noting that there's more than a 30 percentage point difference between black and white test takers on any given standardized test. He spoke of measures being taken to address the gap -- the institution this year of full-day kindergarten, the doubling of participation in summer school, the new READ 180 program for 7th, 8th and 9th graders and efforts to make it easier for students to move up a level in their classes -- but said they had not yet paid dividends. (Meanwhile, the district has assembled a task force to address the gap.)
He also spoke of work done to create a core English/Language Arts curriculum that's consistent district-wide and includes expected learning outcomes to make teachers less reliant on state tests to gauge a student's progress. Kindergarten through eighth grade teachers are currently working with a draft curriculum and will provide feedback for a final revision, he said. Mathematics will be the next focus, and an audit was conducted this fall.