By JOHN T. WARD
Though nominally a $178,503 increase for the district, more than that sum is to be relayed to the Red Bank Charter School, Superintendent Jared Rumage said at a board meeting at the primary school.
With the district seeing an effective decline in aid while state funding to the charter school’s rises $1,025 per student, “I think the time has come to have the discussion about running two public schools in Red Bank,” Rumage told redbankgreen.
Board president Fred Stone called the release of state figures last Thursday “somewhat shocking news.”
Rumage said he was first “disappointed” to see the amount of aid to the district, but “on further review, we were shocked to discover a simultaneous increase in our payment to the Red Bank Charter School.”
“To say that we received $178,000 in additional funding is completely misleading,” said board member and finance committee chair Sue Viscomi. “The full amount will be directed to the charter school. Not one penny will go to the children of this school district.”
The transfer would result in a net drop in aid to the district of a $6,085. Moreover, the district would start the 2018-19 school year with a $7 million funding shortfall, based on calculations of what the state Department of Education itself considers “adequate” under the 2008 School Funding Reform Act, Rumage told the audience in the primary school cafeteria.
According to NJ Spotlight, almost 92 percent of districts statewide are getting less money than they are supposed to under the state’s school-funding formula.
In response to a question from Drummond Place resident Jennifer Garcia about why the charter school funding had risen, Rumage said district officials “haven’t had a clear picture or have anyone [in Trenton] tell us exactly what happened.”
Meredith Pennotti, the charter school’s principal and “lead person,” did not immediately respond to a redbankgreen request for comment Tuesday.
Parent Judy DeHaven of Mechanic Street said she was “utterly disgusted by the Murphy administration.”
“It will always upset me that a charter school student, in the eyes of our state, is worth more than our kids,” she said. “I’m fed up.”
DeHaven’s husband, Wayne Woolley, said he planned to testify next week before a legislative committee for the fifth time in the hopes of garnering more aid for the 1,400-student district and the “unfair” distribution to the charter school.
“I’m telling you, I’m getting sick and tired of those people just sitting up there and staring at me,” he said. “I’m at the point where my ability to articulate myself without flipping a table” is approaching, he said.
Even aside from the charter transfer, board member Tom Labetti said he was “bewildered” that, after hearing legislators praise Red Bank as an exemplar of fiscal responsibility at a forum on school funding held in Little Silver in January, that “we were not rewarded for that.”
Board members unanimously approved a resolution demanding that Trenton enact legislation that ensures Red Bank and other districts “be set on a path to receiving an amount of aid commensurate with the needs of their students.”
The board also introduced a preliminary budget that would reverse a four year-trend of declining increases. Up for final adoption April 24, the spending plan would rise 3.98 percent, which reflects the state-mandated cap of two-percent growth as well as a waiver for healthcare cost increases of 1.98 percent, Rumage said.
Figures showing the tax impact on borough property owners were not released.
Rumage and board members expressed hope that the state would increase funding. Last June, the state increased its previously announced allotment to the borough schools by $512,682, none of which had to be passed through to the charter school.
At the time, Rumage called it a “gigantic” cash infusion that would pay for additional teachers and instructional aides.