Page 20 THE VILLADOM TIMES IV • April 29, 2009 tival in Ridgewood was a student-run, student-staffed event that cost the taxpayers there nothing more than the electricity to light the auditorium. Sorting briefly through the credentials of the winning and losing board candidates in one district, I noticed a sort of commonality: the entry level seems to be some sort of master’s degree, usually in administration or finance. This could be just the wrong stuff in this economy, because the people who thought they understood what was happening were so highly dependant on the academic world that they didn’t recognize what was about to happen when the telltale signs were obvious even to me. When a nation loses its manufacturing base, all investment bets are off. The United States is totally glutted with people who have degrees in business or finance who postulated their education on the idea that it would all go on forever. There are a lot of people out there who do not expect Harvard, do not expect to lose the house as long as they are employed, and do not expect the kind of school spending that goes on at some of the districts that just got a wake-up call. Here is a lesson in economics: When you drive senior citizens out of your town, you lose a solid source of income, because many of seniors have pensions, savings, and entitlement programs that are not dependant on day-to-day employment. As long as they are around, you have some kind of a tax base to use to maintain basic services. When you drive the blue-collar, skilled-trades types and the small business out of town, you lose another vital component. People who have skills in construction or repair of tangible goods are not as dependant on the stock market and the Big Banks as a lot of the high rollers are, and they not only provide a more stable tax base, but tend to join ambulance corps and volunteer fire departments, which save lives and keep down the cost of government. Banishing either or both of these groups because they do not want to pay $20,000 a year on a two-bedroom bungalow on a quarter-acre lot is a soft form of economic suicide. The end result of promulgating a community based on nothing but the schools and comprised of nothing but families who are obsessed with the schools is self-defeating. Without the strategic reserve of well-invested and pensioned seniors and the tactical support of working people, the whole system becomes so top-heavy that it tumbles with every stagger of the stock market as the families that are at once the most prosperous and the most vulnerable lose their ability to cover the whole thing on their own. That is what is happening right now in a lot of places – that, and perhaps the fact that a lot of people who live thrifty lives got tired of the arrogance of those who loved to flaunt the money they used to have. There were a couple of notable exceptions to the tumbling school budgets: Ridgewood and Wyckoff. Both run quality school systems and neither is exactly a tax haven. It is a difficult demographic study, but I think Ridgewood adopted its budget handily and Wyckoff avoided rejection partly because both districts have excellent schools and because both presented budgets that recognized that times were tough among taxpayers. The Ridgewood budget statement promised Draconian cuts and Wyckoff privatized janitorial and custodial services, despite the objections of a number of residents. They showed they care, not just about the kids, but also about the taxpayers. Both districts also show they care about kids by the very significant level of donations from the Ridgewood Education Foundation or the Wyckoff Education Foundation and from the various Wyckoff Parent Teacher Organizations and Ridgewood Home & School Associations. These groups raise and confer funds, without leeching the taxpayers at large, so their kids can have the programs their parents want them to have while other taxpayers can keep their houses. I think the fact that parents are willing to pay for a significant part of educational enhancement out of their own wallets is a great morale-builder among people who might otherwise see the school finding process as Robin Hood in reverse: robbing the poor to help the rich. That is a lesson we can all learn before the next election. The only thing that can get next year’s budgets through is a decision to stop spending so much. The banker who hanged himself, until we have the full story, may simply have taken on too much responsibility in trying to save a system that was hopeless. Trying to spend the average kid into Harvard and train him for the kind of job that no longer exists using other people’s money is also hopeless, and it isn’t to die for. The morning after the school elections, two other stories competed for my attention: a 700-pound Texas woman who cannot get out of bed decided she needed help because the government stopped covering her medical costs, and a banker left on board as the chief financial officer of Freddie Mac after the people who caused that shipwreck jumped overboard reportedly pulled his own plug. Meanwhile right around what used to be the Public School Spending Center of the Universe, voters in some of the top school districts turned thumbs down on school budgets including the spending plans proposed by Glen Rock, Northern Highlands, Allendale, Ramsey, and Upper Saddle River. What does all this have to do with the Texas woman and the banker? Read on. People who are no longer eager consumers of education are disenchanted with the spending that goes on to pay for what can only be described as the fantasies of parents who think that schools can guarantee kids admission to the Ivy League. The high schools that sort of guarantee their students that admission have names like Choate, Lawrenceville, and Horace Mann. Sending the kids there costs the parents a lot of their own money and none of anybody else’s. I have tutored kids who went to Horace Mann. Believe me when I say no public school in Bergen County has anything like the same academic methods or requirements. The same schools that expect parents to pony up or day trips and extras are the ones that write the conditional Ivy passports. Even then, it does not always work. They wouldn’t dream of asking third parties to foot the bill. That could start a revolution. The second tier, the Bergen Academies, provide academically intense study without the dollar diplomacy of Horace Mann or Choate. I’ve tutored kids who went there, too. The kind of homework they had to do would have touched off campus riots in the 1960s. A lot of them were happy to settle for Rutgers because the tuition was bearable for families who weren’t hauling in money. In technical subjects, though not in snob appeal, Rutgers is comparable to the Ivy schools. How does a woman come to weigh 700 pounds? She forgets what she is doing when she eats. That is also how a school system outspends what voters will tolerate. The board and the administrators forget they are spending everyone’s money, and suffer from the collective delusion that the will of the people is reflected in the cheering sections that turn out at board of education meetings to tell them what a great job they’re doing. Here is one example that still amuses me. Every year, Ridgewood High School sponsors an Asian Festival where the kids from Korea, Japan, China, India, and the Philippines get dressed in costumes they (or their parents) pay for and practice on their own time. One year, another district had its own Asian Festival. Organizers brought in highly skilled, hired entertainers from New York City, Fort Lee, and Palisades Park at the taxpayers’ expense. They missed the point. The Asian Fes- A woman, a banker, and the school budgets Ramsey Got to have heart Good Samaritan Hospital, The Junior Woman’s Club and Ramsey Rescue Squad combined efforts to hold a blood drive in Ramsey. Top: Mayor Chris Botta. Above left: Councilwoman Deirdre Dillon. Above right: Amanda holding the signs she made to do her part.