M’TOWN SCHOOLS IN ‘INVESTIGATION’ MODE
Two of the three newly-elected board of ed members, Vincent Brand, left, and Chris Aveta, at Wednesday night’s meeting. (Photo by Dustin Racioppi)
By DUSTIN RACIOPPI
The Middletown Board of Education could staff a detective bureau with all the investigating it’s doing and has ahead.
Investigating was the buzzword from the district Superintendent Karen Bilbao Wednesday night when pushed for details on where and how cuts would be made to the district’s $140.3 million budget, which was rejected by voters last week.
As in, will more teachers have to be laid off? She’s investigating.
Or, will there be redistricting, or school closings, as Bilbao has hinted at before?
“Closing a school or more than one school is one of the areas we said needed to be investigated,” Bilbao said.
“We are investigating a lot of things at this point.”
The decision to close schools, like the many already made 124 layoffs and 72.5 teacher positions eliminated is one Bilbao said she doesn’t want to face.
And some taxpayers, clearly, don’t want it to come to that.
“All of the parents of the River Plaza area will vigorously, vigorously oppose any plans to close our school,” said Mike Maggipinto, a parent who made multiple trips to the podium to pick Bilbao’s brain.
Also looming is whether district teachers are open to a wage freeze, as requested by Mayor Gerard Scharfenberger late last week, in order to save a potential $3 million.Bilbao said Scharfenberger’s request went to the teachers’ union, and the board was copied on it, but the board has not yet been asked to meet with the township committee. Scharfenberger set a Friday deadline for the teachers’ union to get back to him on the freeze.
Under state law, it’s now up to the township committee to suggest what the district budget’s bottom line will be.
Even with so many questions, the evening, which was a combined annual reorganization and regular meeting, was also a chance for three new members, who won election last Tuesday, to make their presence known. They vowed to break out their own forensic kits on the budget.
It began in earnest with the first items on the reorganization agenda.
Newly-elected member Vincent Brand stalled what are normally routine appointments ones that require expenditures, at least because, he said, the budget is in doubt, and therefore everything should be under scrutiny. He pointed to spending $10,000 on consulting services for the high schools’ Bottlecappers, or drug and alcohol awareness, program.
“Ten-thousand for Bottlecappers, I don’t feel great about that,” he said to applause. A majority of the board agreed and tabled the appointments until its next meeting.
“I think what happened last week was the voters of Middletown said, let’s put the brakes on. I think the voters of New Jersey are saying that,” Brand said.
There is one certainty the board can work with before meeting with the township committee. Board Administrator William Doering said by law the town body can direct a maximum cut of $4 million.
“There will be a base budget to work with in one way or another,” he said.
The feeling among the board is that $3 million will be the magic number from the committee. The two bodies must meet before May 19, Bilbao said. The board’s next meeting after that is May 26.
The board’s three newest member are Brand, Chris Aveta and Michael Mascone. The board elected Michael Donlon as president and Daniel Skelton as vice president.