By JOHN T. WARD
The Red Bank Board of Education approved a $22 million budget that would raise the local school portion of property tax bills by 3.26 percent Tuesday night.
Upshot: a $145 increase on the year for the owner of a home assessed at the town-average $362,342, said Superintendent Jared Rumage.
The increase in the levy, to $16.57 million, exceeds the state-mandated two-percent cap under an allowable waiver for increases in health benefits expenses, he said.
The increase was the smallest since Rumage, of Fair Haven, became superintendent almost three years ago, and it was produced amid familiar conditions: rising enrollment and inadequate funding from the state.
“We’re short two dozen teachers and other personnel,” Rumage told redbankgreen prior to the board meeting. Since 2008, as enrollment has risen from 924 students to a projected 1,459 in September, Trenton has withheld more than $6.4 million in required funding, even as other districts with shrinking enrollment have maintained their funding, he said.
A slide presentation on the budget showed that of $3 million received in state aid in the current school year, $1.6 million was transferred to the Red Bank Charter School, a sum that’s expected to drop to $1.55 million in the coming school year, though the figure is subject to change, Rumage said.
Rumage said the enrollment growth has tested the district’s ability to accommodate students.
“To walk around here, you wouldn’t say, ‘wow, there are too many kids in the classrooms.’ But we may have 24 where there should be 20,” he said. “So education is being compromised.”
Still, there are no plan to add facilities, Rumage said.
“It wouldn’t matter if we had more space, because we don’t have the teachers” to staff additional classrooms, he said.
Members of the school community, who have made repeated trips to Trenton in an effort to persuade lawmakers to restore full funding, will travel there again by bus next Tuesday, leaving by bus from the primary school at 7:45 a.m.
“It’s disheartening that everything is political, and we have to go to Trenton to fight to get” funding promised by the state itself, said board member Sue Viscomi.
Several parents, including Lisa McLaughlin and Jill Burden, both members of Fair Schools Red Bank, appealed to the board to use the courts to deal with funding inequity. McLaughlin urged the board to sue the state Department of Education, as Freehold did Tuesday.
“I don’t think now’s the time to hedge,” she said. “We need that money now.”
Burden exhorted the board to join Fair Schools, along with the Latino Coalition of New Jersey and the ACLU of New Jersey, in a federal lawsuit they’re pursuing along with the ACLU of New Jersey to force a closure of the charter school over allegations of segregation.