By JOHN T. WARD
The average Red Bank homeowner would pay about $117 more in taxes to support borough schools this year if New Jersey legislators don’t come through with more funding, Superintendent Jared Rumage said Tuesday night.
Even with the levy increase, the local primary and middle schools could see cuts in staffing and extracurricular programs such as jazz band and the fledgling cross-country track team, he said.
An air of frustration hung over the board of ed’s adoption of the district’s 2018-’19 budget at the primary school. The spending plan calls for a 3.98-percent increase in the local tax levy. Details were expected to be posted on the district website Wednesday, officials said.
To save an unspecified number of teaching and other jobs, as well as programs on the cutting block, “we would need to get somewhere around three-quarters of a million dollars, at least” in additional state aid, Rumage told a small audience at the primary school.
“The bad news is we’re $7 million under-adequacy, while so many districts in the state, including another one here in Red Bank, are fully funded, or even over adequacy” under the 2008 School Funding Reform Act, Rumage said, referring to the Red Bank Charter School. “The sad news, when I think about all we’re accomplishing, is what we could be accomplishing, not only if we had the money we deserve, but if we had the time back from chasing the money that we deserve.”
In spite of the challenges, Rumage said, his campaign to make the district “BIA: Best in America” was succeeding, in terms of academic achievement and sports.
Board member Sue Viscomi, who heads the board’s finance committee, said it was “disgraceful” that the state still wasn’t properly funding the district. State aid to the district this year was announced as $178,503 in March, but the the district is required to transfer a sum exceeding that amount to the charter school, for a net reduction in aid of $6,000.
School officials expressed hope that the state would come through with additional funding, as it did last year, with a late injection of $513,000 more into the district, allowing for the hiring of two additional teachers, Rumage said at the time. None of those funds had to be passed through to the charter school.
Dozens of Red Bank parents and school officials, clad in bright red t-shirts, traveled to Trenton earlier this week to implore legislators to increase funding to the district, where enrollment has soared by 53 percent over the past decade, to 1,422 students, with 17 more expected in September.
Rumage said the real impact of the state’s failure to fully fund the district was in the form of “never-weres,” including some two dozen teaching positions uncreated and learning programs that never existed over the years of aid shortfalls that total, by one measure, $35 million.
Board member Ann Roseman said one below-the-surface impact of underfunding was evident in literacy intervention efforts. Teaching experts in that area are able to show “fantastic” gains in individual-student literacy, she said, but “the problem is triage… and how much more they could do” if they weren’t so limited in the number of students they work with.
“To my fellow Red Bankers, I say the expenditures in this budget are responsible,” said board member Tom Labetti. “The flaw in this budget is on the other side of the ledger. It is controlled by the folks in Trenton. We need our fair share and we need it now.”
Board member Ben Forest said he was “disgusted with the years of underfunding” and was tempted to vote no on the budget as a protest against Trenton, but joined the rest of the board in unanimous approval.