By JOHN T. WARD
Jared Rumage, 42, of Fair Haven, was named to head the two-school district at a meeting of the board of education Tuesday night. He replaces Laura Morana, who retired in September after seven years at the helm.
Rumage, the principal at the Iselin Middle School in Woodbridge Township, will face some heavy lifting when he starts work on July 1. Amid rapidly rising enrollment in a district in which some 90 percent of the students qualify for free or reduced-cost lunches, the board of education this week approved a budget that will sock borough taxpayers with a 10-percent tax increase, or an average $231 more per household this year.
“This is the situation he’s walking into,” board President Ben Forest tells redbankgreen. “The number one challenge is going to be resources, how to do a lot with a little.”
Rumage was the first of 14 candidates interviewed for the job, and made an indelible impression, Forest said.
“He came in and said, ‘I didn’t want to wait,’ ” Forest said. “One of the things we loved about him was he really seemed to want this job.”
Forest and other board members were impressed when they met with staff and administrators in Woodbridge, where Rumage also grew up.
“I was blown away when I spoke to his colleagues,” Forest said. “They really love him, and in fact were a bit angry at us for taking him away. He seems to have the ability to get things done and make more friends than enemies along the way. That’s not an easy combination.”
Forest said it helped that Rumage is a member of Red Bank’s Community YMCA and frequently brings his kids to Eastside Park, near the Fair Haven border. Rumage, of Hance Road, is the father of two, and the husband of Karen Rumage, an owner of Fair Haven’s River Road Books.
“He’s also a good fit in that he’s a middle school principal,” given that Red Bank’s two schools serve pre-K through eighth graders, Forest said. “That’s a tough age.”
Rumage tells redbankgreen that while he hasn’t had to deal much with Trenton, “there’s a lot of things I didn’t know when I started this position, but you use your resources” and learn along the way.
When he became principal at the Iselin school six years ago, he said, he found morale problems, a physical plant in need of upgrades and nearly non-existent technology, but has worked to turn all those around.
“I’m not new to a situation where you have to find resources,” he said.
Rumage has held various position in the Woodbridge school system over the past 20 years, including middle school special education teacher and varsity soccer coach, director of athletics and supervisor of physical education and health. Before he became principal at Iselin, he worked at John F. Kennedy Memorial High School and Indiana Avenue Elementary School.
A graduate of Villanova, Rumage has a master’s in educational administration from Georgian Court University and earned his doctorate in education from the College of Saint Elizabeth in Morristown a year ago with a dissertation on the teacher evaluation process. He also holds a certificate as a teacher of the handicapped.
Rumage will be paid a base salary of $145,000, Forest said.
He was present Tuesday night when the board approved his hiring and ratified the new $24 million budget, which calls for $15 million to be raised from borough property owners. Of that sum, $1.65 million goes straight to the Red Bank Charter School, Forest said.
The district was permitted to exceed the state’s two-percent cap on budget increases because of the surge in enrollment and other factors, Forest said.
Forest said district enrollment is up by 95 students this year, to just under 1,400, but state aid was flat, after having risen $339,000 last year.
In addition, the district was under state mandates to buy computers for PARCC testing and to upgrade Internet infrastructure, among other “substantial” increases in expenses, Forest said. As a result, some programs had to be cut, including one for musical strings, in an effort to maintain sports, which Forest said are critical to keeping at-risk students on track.
“We’re not happy about” the cuts, Forest said, “but in order to meet our mission, we’re doing whatever we have to do.”