Page 24 THE VILLADOM TIMES I • April 1, 2009 practical reasons, are opposed to any cuts at all in their own particular bailiwick, even if they approve fiscal carnage elsewhere. Here are a few cases in point from right around home. For the past several years, Wyckoff has had a policy of not filling any position in municipal administration that is not absolutely necessary. This started long before the present slump, but it was a prescient move. Many municipal governments were a little top heavy a few years ago, and some still are, though Wyckoff is not among them. Using attrition by retirement as the kindest, gentlest way to admit that some towns have too many people on the payroll is a lot better than swinging the axe, especially when the massacres transpire because one side or the other won a highly politicized election. In the same town, the Wyckoff Board of Education opened up a controversy when they offered a motion to allow the school’s administrative staff to bid to privatize the custodial staff – a move that reportedly could save the district in excess of $200,000 a year. The motion was tabled when a groundswell protest among residents urged the board to save the custodians and find other places to cut spending. A bid to spend $75,000 for a study on how to “green” the school plant facilities came in for brief notoriety. Spending any money for a study the state or a science teacher can replicate for free seems like a no-brainer. Skip the study and save at least one custodian. People who do studies on a professional basis are nice, too, but it’s more important to save the employment of capable workers. When these people leave for retirement, it would be an excellent idea to replace them with outside employees or tap the older kids to help clean up the school buildings and pick up after themselves. Wyckoff has a superb record of parental donations for educational enrichment: materials, programs, and even gifts to teachers. Let the kids help, too. But don’t hack down the custodians while spending money on extraneous studies and school-sponsored frills. Where I went to school, the custodians were more popular than some of the teachers. We need to take a mixture of compassion and common sense into this one and let the living people who have these jobs leave when they are ready, not when the rest of us need to save some money. Allendale discovered some people who were quietly heroic. The senior police officers in Allendale voluntarily took a very small increase in pay so the younger department members, hired in the last few years and paid just enough to get by, could have a substantial pay increase. That shows a lot of class on both sides. Most people will talk on endlessly in broad philosophical terms until money comes up, at which point they retreat to their respective trenches and open fire. The flexibility and intelligence shown by both sides in this case was commendable. A lot of towns are pursuing the question of givebacks from the libraries. The state, as we all know, tells municipalities how much to give the libraries, and on an exterior basis, the figure is not negotiable. In this area, the libraries tend to be well-supported by voluntary donations and are a critical asset to youngsters who need books and space to do homework and group projects, senior citizens who can use a non-sectarian forum for discussion and social groups, and people who use library resources to look for work. I frequently visit four or five libraries in Northwest Bergen County and a couple of more on the periphery. The section of books about interviews and resumes is always well-churned. Libraries often provide free, quality entertainment, including a Jane Austen impersonator and a Russian dance troupe. The libraries are very often the places where academic work gets done. The schools provide the forum for sports, dances, social activities, and for reading the kind of books that make you a nicer person but don’t prepare you for verbal portion of the SAT. The libraries take up the slack by giving kids access to books and to areas set aside for quiet reading and study. I watched the Ridgewood High School Math Team members prepare for their state-ranked championship and watched some of the featured players give free math lessons to their peers and younger kids. They did it at the Ridgewood Library after the school was closed. I urge extreme caution in anything that might curtail their activities. Speaking of schools: Anywhere from two-thirds to almost three-quarters of the local property tax goes to fund the schools, which are run by the autonomous boards of education. Many people equate “school” with “education.” That is not correct. For motivated students, school is indeed the jumping-off point for education, though home and the library are usually the other legs on the milking stool. There is no need to harp on this endlessly. The schools cost too much. The motivated kids all hire private tutors or tutor one another, and the ones who are not motivated won’t learn more than a modicum by osmosis. I do a lot of SAT tutoring, and what I see convinces me that a lot of schools even in Northwest Bergen County are not cutting it in terms of academic preparation. There are a few superb teachers out there, and a great many good ones – but the school systems should not be exempt from the game of “Lifeboat.” A few tenured planks that rot and snap could sink the whole boat, and a lot of us are getting too old to swim in cold water.
Back in the halcyon days when everybody expected to be a millionaire and gave too many parties, somebody invented a game called “Lifeboat” to deal with the problem of an elite group: those who had too many friends. The point of “Lifeboat” is that the winner has to stand up and justify his or her own importance -- why he or she is an asset to the group in the imaginary lifeboat, the community, and the world --and the other people are a liability. In the crudest possible terms, it could come down to “I’m bigger than you are and I’m not going over the side without a fight,” but in a more subtle way it could come down to one’s social worth. A pediatrician or a nurse outranks a teacher, while a teacher outranks a stockbroker. The collective group then puts someone over the side so they can lighten the lifeboat. The last survivor wins the game and loses every friend he or she ever had, maybe for life. We are playing “Lifeboat” right now, but it’s not a party game. This time, it’s a contest to see who gets to keep his or her public-sector job and who gets to join the private sector, where “Lifeboat” had been the name of the game for the past 20 years, and has moved up to a frantic level of intensity in the past three months. Every time you turn around, something is going over the side: a bank, a brokerage firm, a jewelry store, a coffee shop, or a restaurant. It’s cold out in the land of Free Enterprise, and while some conspiracy buffs see this economic downturn as one more ploy to bring us closer to socialism, most of us see it as a correction. Attempts to fulfill the fantasy that every marginally employed person can cover a mortgage recently backfired and took down a lot of responsible people along with the high-risk borrowers and the connivers. The paper traders forgot the paper they were trading really was not worth anything without the assets to back it up. When the boom in real estate finally tanked, it took down a lot of people who actually do useful work – contractors and their employees – and cut into the market for building supplies. In hard times, people tend to furl the star spangled banner and buy whatever car will last the longest and burn the least gas, which could mean that 60 years after World War II, the former Axis countries finally invaded America, just as Frank Capra told us they would. I’m still driving a Ford, but it has a new engine in it. The last one blew up about 1,000 miles after the 60,000-mile warranty expired. My first new car was Japanese and the engine lasted 160,000 miles before it started to diesel. My current car, or at best the next car, will probably be the last one I own, so I’m stuck between being patriotic and pragmatic. A glance at any road or parking lot indicates that a great many people have no problem with that. Now that cars have taught us to think outside of the box, it’s time to think about how and where to really cut expenses. The trouble is that everybody in the public sector has a constituency of people who, for humane or
No one is exempt from the Lifeboat game
Letters to the Editor
Dear Editor: On Feb. 12, Sicomac Community Engine Company 3 held a benefit beefsteak for a Wyckoff fireman. My husband, Ed, was diagnosed in December with lymphoma and has been unable to work. The event was a great success, raising funds to help meet our monthly living expenses. My husband and I would like to take this opportunity to thank everyone who organized, supported, and attended the event. We are so fortunate to be part of a community that cares so deeply and is willing to help in such uncertain economic times. This could be a devastating time for us due to my husband’s cancer, the loss of income, and our uncertain future; however, we find ourselves experiencing incredible hope. This hope is possible because of the kindness of family, friends, and a generous and supportive community. Again, thank you from the bottom of our hearts. Ed and Michelle Pruim and family Wyckoff Dear Editor: I have just spent the last two weeks working with the director, producer, cast, and crew of the Midland Park High School musical, “Leader of the Pack.” It has been such a wonderful experience. These days, so much is written and discussed about the negative things teens do. I would like to tell you about a very positive experience. The students involved in this show have sports commitments, jobs, and tons of homework. They pulled together and gave the performance of
Grateful for support
their lives. Director Pam Klinger came to us as a gift. She has performed on Broadway and in movies. We were lucky enough to get her to direct this musical. She also did “Grease” last year at Midland Park. She brought with her a very high level of excellence and professionalism. She raised the bar and the students rose to the challenge. There is not a big budget for a musical in a small town. That being said, if you saw the performance, I am sure you would agree that Producer Kit Gonzalez went above and beyond to make this show happen. Many parents got involved. From the sound to the stage and the costumes, parents had their hands in the production. They put in many hours of dedicated work. I can tell you from personal experience that all this work was worth it. Working with the case and crew was an absolute delight. They were always ready to help and no matter what we did for them, there was always a “thank you.” We are so lucky to live in this small town that some refer to fondly as “Mayberry.” The education and extracurricular activities offered are superior. Candy Ruitenberg Midland Park It is the policy of the Villadom TIMES to have a signed copy of letters to the editor in our files. Please fax a signed copy to (201) 670-4745 or drop a signed copy in the mail to Villadom Times, P.O. Box 96, Midland Park, NJ 07432. Signed letters may also be dropped off at our office located at 333 Godwin Avenue in Midland Park. Thank you.