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RED BANK: AID BILL EASES, BUT DOESN’T END SCHOOL BUDGET SQUEEZE

(Photo by Brian Donohue. Click to enlarge.)

By BRIAN DONOHUE

The Red Bank Borough Schools are facing a slightly better financial situation after the governor and legislature approved a bill earlier this month giving more aid to the district and others across the state who faced dramatic cuts under the state school funding formula.

But the bill only partly lessens the painful squeeze for the two-school district.

Red Bank Borough Public Schools enrollment chart.(Photo by Brian Donohue. Click to enlarge.)

Red Bank Borough Schools will receive $773,682 in emergency aid under a bill signed by Gov. Phil Murphy on May 14. The bill is designed to help the 140 districts who saw cuts to state aid under the state funding formula. But that amount will only partially restore the $1.7 million cut in state aid to the district under the state funding formula.

To balance the ledger, staffing will be reduced and some long term plans reigned in, Superintendent Jared Rumage said.  

The Board of Education introduced a budget last month that included a 2.9 percent increase in the total amount raised by local taxes. That translates into about $132 more per year for the owner of a home assessed at the borough average of $538,000, according to the budget presentation last month.  The plan also projected the district employing eight fewer teachers and six fewer instructional assistants next year.

Enrollment is down slightly from last year and 16.5 percent from a peak of 1,425 students in the 2016-17 school year, according to statistics included in the budget presentation. That enrollment drop was a partial factor in the district receiving less aid under the formula, officials said.

Redbankgreen sent questions to Superintendent Jared Rumage regarding the budget situation and the funding bill.

The Q&A is posted below.

Are you confident the district will be able to recoup 45 percent of the reduction in state aid as provided for in the bill? What’s the process: do you have to apply and when will they let you know?

Yes, we have already been notified of the stabilization aid in the amount of $773, 682.

Will that reduce or eliminate the need for staff reductions or other cuts you said would be necessary in the budget presentation last month?

We lost $2 million in state aid over the past two years. While we are to receive $773,682 in stabilization aid  we already designed and approved our budget with a multi-faceted approach in order to deal with the significant loss in state aid. This approach enabled us to focus on our most important resource – our people. We  minimized the reduction of staff but placed serious constraints on our long-term planning. These new monies will mainly be utilized to support  the sustainability and maintenance of our current programs and staff moving forward.

Have any non tenured staff been given layoff notices?

We reduced total staff as a result of the state aid reduction and also the expiration of pandemic-related federal grant funding.

Recouping 45 percent still leaves a budget gap. How will the rest be made up?

As previously mentioned, we have solidified our position moving into 24-25 but unless the funding formula is revised to offer better consistency, we will face challenges in the design of future budgets.

Is the district taking advantage of the new law that allows increases in the tax levy above the 2 percent cap for districts whose state aid was cut? If so, by how much. If not, why not?

We are not eligible to increase our tax levy increase beyond the 2.91% already approved.

One follow up question: Is there a number on the staff reductions and how they were done or will be done? Retirements, layoffs, etc?

Our reductions are primarily the result of reduced enrollment, the expiration of American Rescue Plan Funding and the reduction of Federal Aid but will be softened by retirements.

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