RED BANK SCHOOL TAX SET TO DECLINE

Rbboe031709Schools Superintendent Laura Morana, far right, watches a student learning demonstration last night with, from left, board members Marjorie Lowe and Rosemarie Kopka and business administrator Annie Darrow.

Looks like Red Bank taxpayers will get some relief this year. Enough, in fact, to buy a celebratory round at the Dublin House.

Using what schools Superintendent Laura Morana says is a "data driven" approach to all aspects of curriculum and staffing demands, the borough board of eduction last night unveiled a 2009-2010 budget that would shave $7 off the yearly tax bill for a Red Bank homeowner with a house assessed at the average $407,000.

Actually, that's only the portion of the budget dedicated to general operating expenses, which voters will get to weigh in on next month. Factor in savings from reduced debt service, and the drop from the current year's bill comes  to $21.

"Our approach to the budget is pretty strategic," Morana tells redbankgreen. "It's our use of data make the most important decisions. If we maximize its use, the whole community will benefit."

The approach to finances also includes an aggressive approach to finding grant money, board members said.

"You were just relentless" in the past year, board member Mary Ellen Mess told Morana last night.

"It's astounding that we have a decrease yet we are improving our
services," said board member Ben Forest. "It is an amazing
accomplishment."

Red Bank's biggest win grantwise may be the $693,000 increase in funding, to $2 million, won from the state for an expansion of a pre-K program to teach 3- and -4-year-olds basic skills.

The two-school district was one of just five statewide to get state money to start up the pre-K program in the current year. Morana said that keeping a tight rein on expenses — for example, assigning a nurse part-time to the program, rather than a full-time as other districts said they would in their grant applications, "probably laid the groundwork for the expansion this year."

A running-start educational approach that Morana says produces "solid" differences in acadmic, social and maturity skils by the third grade, the pre-K program will grow from its present, pilot level of just 15 students to 60 three-year-olds and 105 four-year-olds in September.

The program for the three-year-olds is already oversubscribed, which means there will be a lottery held April 8. No lottery is anticipated for the four-year-olds. Here's a letter to parents from Morana about the program: Download Preklottery

Morana says she expects the program to easily meet the state mandate that it cover all eligible students by 2013.

No members of the public were present for the introduction of the spending plan, which calls for $1.84 million to be transferred to the Red Bank Charter School, a 2.5 percent increase from the current-year $1.79 million.

A public hearing  on the $11.6 million to be raised by taxes — the same amount as in the current year — is scheduled for 7:30p, March 31 at the primary school.

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