SCHOOL SPENDING: CHARTER COSTS SOAR

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Only five of New Jersey’s 54 charter schools expect to spend more per child this year than Red Bank’s, according to the state Department of Education’s Comparative Spending Guide, released last Friday.

The Red Bank Charter School ranked 49th in a low-to-high sorting of costs per pupil, planning to spend an average $13,344 per student in the current school year, the state reported. The statewide average among charter schools is $10,365 per student.

The latest ranking continues a recent trend. The Red Bank school ranked 42nd in per-pupil spending for the 2004-05 school year, and in 43rd last year, according to the state data.

In that time, the gap between what the charter school spends and what all charters schools statewide spend on average has been widening. In 2004-05, Red Bank’s costs were 24 percent above the state average of $9,569; last year, the charter school was 27. percent above the average of $10,017. The year, Red Bank is nearly 28.7 percent above the average.

School principal Meredith Pennotti was not immediately available for comment yesterday or early today.

One factor driving the costs: teacher salaries and benefits. Two years ago, the Red Bank charter school ranked 42nd in the state by this measure. Today, it ranks 52nd. The average Red Bank Charter school cost of salaries and benefits per student is $7,327, 41 percent above the statewide average of $5,176.

Yet Red Bank’s charter school teachers earn, on average, $40,706, 18th from the bottom, compared to $43,303 statewide. The school also has fewer students per teacher — 8.8, versus the state average of 12.1.

Administrative costs, though, were well above average. The borough charter school ranked 49th in this category, at $2,879 per student, compared to a statewide average of $1,879.

School maintenance costs-per-student of $481 on Oakland Street this year is dramatically lower than the statewide average cost of $1,329. Red Bank ranks 7th in this category.

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