M’TOWN SEEKS $400K MORE IN CUTS

scharfenberger-hed1By DUSTIN RACIOPPI

After agreeing with the board of education to cut $1.6 million from the district’s failed school budget, Middletown’s township committee Monday night unanimously approved an additional $400,000 in reductions, bringing the total trim job to $2.09 million, says Mayor Gerard Scharfenberger (right).

The recommended cuts include eliminating a vice principal at each of the two high schools, a business administrator and a director position, as well as reductions to health insurance costs. No teacher positions are included in the resolution, Scharfenberger says.

However, the school board, even if it accepts the recommended expense reduction, can make the cuts where it chooses.

Superintendent Karen Bilbao was not available for comment on Tuesday, and calls to board of ed members from redbankgreen were not answered.

Scharfenberger said that after two meetings with the board, on May 3 and May 6, in which an initial $1.6 million in reductions from the $140.3 million budget were agreed upon, the committee felt more could be shaved from the spending plan.

A deluge of online recommendations by residents — about 700, Scharfenberger said — also showed “overwhelming” support to reduce the bottom line further, Scharfenberger said.

He also said there was a groundswell of support for his recent proposal that the district’s teachers’ union forfeit a 4.3 percent raise for the 2010-11 school year, which it declined.

“I would say over 95 percent of folks wanted the teachers to take a pay freeze,” Scharfenberger said. “After we started to get the suggestions from the public, we got a sense of where people wanted to cut.”

Committeeman Sean Byrnes said a suggestion voiced often by residents was to eliminate higher administrative positions. But cutting the vice principal positions will have an affect on discipline, he said.

“It’s not like we make these cuts and there’s no impact,” he said.

He preferred that the process was more open — namely, meeting with the school board prior to deciding the additional cuts to inform members of the committee’s intentions. Scharfenberger said he called Bilbao over the weekend to inform her more cuts were coming.

Byrnes, who wasn’t invited to informal budget meetings with the two bodies, had proposed a joint public meeting to gain more input from residents, although he’s happy to have seen the high level of electronic input. The idea was a step in the right direction, he said.

“I’m glad we got 700 emails, but you can’t just say send in your comments and leave it at that,” Byrnes said. “The reason we have so many problems at the local level is public involvement. This whole debate over the school budget is a great opportunity to engage.”

The board of ed meets again on May 26.

View the resolution on the cuts here boe-resolution