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BOARD PASSES BUDGET, TAX INCREASE

rb-budgetBoard members Ann Roseman and Ben Forest at Tuesday night’s session. (Photo by Dustin Racioppi)

By DUSTIN RACIOPPI

The Red Bank Board of Education unanimously passed a $19 million budget Tuesday night, a spending plan that will increase the tax levy if voters approve it next month.

Even with $1.4 million in reductions in the general operating portion of the budget, to $14.1 million, the budget will result in a 3.75 percent increase to the tax rate due to a drop in revenues and the state-mandate that local school districts use surplus funds to compensate for state aid cuts, school officials said.

Property owners would see an approximate 2 cent increase per $100 of valuation their tax bills, to $0.5371. For the owner of a home assessed at the borough-average $405,000, that would mean $2,175 in taxes, excluding levies for the the borough government, the regional high school and Monmouth County.

To make up for a steep cut in state aid to the two-school system, positions had to be eliminated — though there haven’t been any layoffs — and, among other extracurricular programs, all athletics at the middle school were dropped.

“To me that’s just incredible,” said a displeased Ben Forest, who heads the board’s finance committee.

moranaRed Bank Superintendent Laura Morana explains the district’s $19 million budget Tuesday night. (Photo by Dustin Racioppi)

Through personnel reductions, program cuts and nibbling at miscellaneous services, the school board was able to trim nearly $1 million from its initial $19.9 million proposal.

If there’s a silver lining to be found in the district’s fiscal woes, superintendent Laura Morana said the board was able to lower salaries by nearly 2 percent, reduced its spending by $1.4 million and the district’s lauded pre-kindergarten program will gain its full funding and be able to expand, as planned, this coming school year to accommodate 235 students.

The pre-k expansion also allows teachers and staff to be reassigned, thereby avoiding layoffs within the district, Morana said.

“We are so incredibly fortunate in that respect,” she said. “We have to be positive and find something positive in the process.”

Forest didn’t seem so sanguine. After adopting the budget he addressed the public — only five people showed up for the public comment portion of the meeting and left soon after — about his outlook considering the state’s financial troubles.

“I’m really quite fearful about our program for the future,” he said, then thanked board members for their work creating the budget.

“Thank you, everyone. It’s been a difficult time,” he said. “I think the challenges will continue.”

The budget is up for approval by voters from 2 to 9p on April 20. School officials will hold an information session about the budget and its components at 7p on April 14 at River Street Commons, an event hosted by the Westside Community Group. For more information,  call 732-741-3715 or 732-747-0306.

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