RIDGEWOOD, N.J. -- A summit held Wednesday in Ridgewood on some of the top issues facing local schools centered on the biggest -- money.
Non-discretionary expenses are driving costs, several school superintendents who attended the hour-long breakfast session with county and state legislators at the Ridgewood Education Center said.
Emerson Schools Supt. Brian Gatens cited a state-mandated 2% annual budget increase that he said makes it difficult to maintain buildings.
A possible tipping point for taxpayers, said Harrington Park Schools Supt. Adam Fried, is the rise in healthcare costs. These have to be met, he explained, which increases the burden on residents.
"Maybe this is our call to action as we sit here," Fried said.
Bergen County receives a disproportionately small amount of state aid compared to others in the state -- even though it has more students than many of them, Bergen County Freeholder Maura DeNicola told the attendees.
In that case, Ramsey Schools Supt. Matt Murphy said, districts need legislators in Trenton to fight for them.
"Unfunded mandates and well-intended thoughts and bills coming out and how they impact us on a school level -- there are some of the issues." said Murphy, who is president of Bergen County Association of School Administrators.
Having such conversations is important, he said, expressing the hope that more legislators and administrators would attend future sessions.
"We need to be more inclusive in our thinking if we're going to solve some of these huge issues that we have," Murphy said.
Wednesday was a start, said Gatens of Emerson who was also joined by fellow superintendents Daniel Fishbein of Ridgewood, Michael Fox of Demarest and Michael Jordan of Maywood, as well state Assemblywoman Holly Schepisi and interim Bergen County Executive Schools Supt. Norah Peck.
"We appreciate all the legislators coming out and hearing the superintendents and the concerns we have," Gatens told Daily Voice. "It was really obvious that the climate that exists above and beyond schools is impacting schools."
The meeting shifted focus to the classroom when Ridgewood High School students presented projects for school clubs Teen Leads and the Global Classroom Partnership.