Jobs and after-school programs that were cut this spring are being restored, said Superintendent Jared Rumage, seen at left with board president Fred Stone before a lobbying trip to Trenton in 2017. (Photo by John T. Ward. Click to enlarge.)
By JOHN T. WARD
Red Bank school officials have been busy in recent days restoring jobs, programs and contracts eliminated just four months ago.
Under Governor Phil Murphy’s first budget, the borough’s 1,422-student pre-K-8 district saw a 55-percent jump in state aid, which board members said Tuesday night was a cause for both celebration and frustration.
Of the $1.788 million increase in funding announced Friday, $153,000 must be forwarded to the Red Bank Charter School, finance committee chairperson Sue Viscomi told the audience at a meeting of the district school board Tuesday night at the middle school.
In April, the district passed a budget that included just $178,503 in additional aid, a far cry from the estimated $7 million owed under the 2008 School Funding Reform Act. But with $184,000 required to be passed along to the charter school, district officials called it a net reduction in aid of $6,000, and blamed it in part for a 4-percent hike in the district tax, which boosted the average homeowner’s bill by $117 this year.
It also forced cuts for classroom aids, extracurricular activities and architectural services, said Superintendent Jared Rumage.
The state’s new $37.4 billion budget included $351 million boost in school aid overall from last year. The distribution plan for that money was released last Friday, with 391 districts getting more aid, 172 getting less and 12 unchanged, according to NorthJersey.com.
“We’re still drastically underfunded,” Viscomi said, but the additional money will enable the district to restore services, such as guidance counseling, that have a positive impact on academic outcomes.
“This money is not going to waste. This is being strategically designated to help long-term,” she said.
Under guidance from the Department of Education, districts getting increases could use some to provide tax relief. But that’s not possible in Red Bank, Rumage told redbankgreen.
“That’s gone already,” said Rumage. “Most of it went to putting things back, then to charter.”
“We had to borrow some money out of reserves to patch this budget, so we’re putting that money back, too.”
Beyond restoring line items cut in the latest budget, the district is racing to reinstitute support staff in English as a Second Language and general education, “things that we had to have waivers on in the past from a compliance perspective,” Rumage said.
He noted that the district’s enrollment had soared by 400 students in the past six years, even as state funding was “flat, so we had to divide that money among more students.”
Since the district budget was finalized, it has been hit with about $300,000 in unanticipated special education costs, including some $150,000 in education and transportation expenses for a special needs student, Rumage said.
“We were fortunate that we were able to put back everything we cut, and put money back in reserve,” Rumage told redbankgreen. That sum, about $150,000 was applied to next year’s budget, and should take some pressure off taxpayers, he said.
“But you never know. We may not get our money next year,” he said.
Viscomi and fellow board member Ben Forest, along with Rumage, praised the work of district parents, teachers and local legislators in putting pressure on Trenton to address underfunding issues.
The board passed a resolution thanking 11th-district Senator Vin Gopal; his predecessor, Jennifer Beck; and Assembly members Joann Downey and Eric Houghtaling, among others, “for having kept this is issue in the forefront in previous sessions of the Legislature,” it read.
Now, said board president Fred Stone, “we have to remember to keep their feet to the fire,” he said of lawmakers, “to fulfill the promise to bring school funding up to where it’s supposed to be.”
Repeating a past criticism, Rumage told redbankgreen that “the existence of the charter school is an unnecessary financial burden on the community when we have such an outstanding public school district. It’s problematic.”
Here’s a statement about the funding Rumage issued Wednesday afternoon: RB Schools statement 071818