SCHOOL SPENDING: CHARTER COSTS SOAR

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Only five of New Jersey’s 54 charter schools expect to spend more per child this year than Red Bank’s, according to the state Department of Education’s Comparative Spending Guide, released last Friday.

The Red Bank Charter School ranked 49th in a low-to-high sorting of costs per pupil, planning to spend an average $13,344 per student in the current school year, the state reported. The statewide average among charter schools is $10,365 per student.

The latest ranking continues a recent trend. The Red Bank school ranked 42nd in per-pupil spending for the 2004-05 school year, and in 43rd last year, according to the state data.

In that time, the gap between what the charter school spends and what all charters schools statewide spend on average has been widening. In 2004-05, Red Bank’s costs were 24 percent above the state average of $9,569; last year, the charter school was 27. percent above the average of $10,017. The year, Red Bank is nearly 28.7 percent above the average.

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ANYTHING WRONG WITH THIS PICTURE?

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How many of Red Bank’s 3,326 homeowners does it take to cover the cost of healthcare insurance for the 23 elected and appointed officials who use it?

+ Thirteen, in the riverside enclave of Hubbard Park, where the average property assessment is $1.19 million. Collectively, the municipal tax receipts (excluding school and county levies) from every house on Hubbard match the $59,400 cost of insuring elected and appointed officials almost exactly.

+ Thirty-eight, going by the proposed townwide average local property tax bill of $1,556, which is based on an average assessment of $404,981 struck earlier this year.

+ Sixty-nine, on Bank Street, where properties are assessed at an average $224,350, according to Monmouth County records. Except that there are only 55 properties on that three-block street. So even after using every penny of local tax paid by Bank Street property owners to cover this cost, the borough still would need to come up with another $12,000.

That’s the math. Whether or not the spending is appropriate is a political matter — and a hot one, it would appear, judging by a flurry of recent comments posted on redbankgreen. (See the comment trails beneath our stories on the budget, the appointment of Grace Cangemi to the council and elsewhere.)

As Mayor-elect late last year, Pasquale Menna appeared to agree that the issue of healthcare benefits for elected officials was worthy of serious reconsideration. But with a new budget moving forward and no changes to the coverage in evidence, the topic has yet to get a full public airing at the council. Where does Menna stand on it today, and what do each of the sitting council members have to say about it?

redbankgreen invites the mayor and council members to post their opinions on this site, just as all readers are encouraged to do the same.

Meantime, what follows is a Q&A with Borough Administrator Stanley Sickels conducted by email late last week in an effort to establish a basic framework of facts. It’s not an exhaustive review of the topic, but rather a starting point.

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RED BANK ‘WINNER’ OF STATE AID BOOST

Gov. Jon Corzine’s proposed budget includes a more than 18-percent increase in state aid to Red Bank schools.

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From today’s Star-Ledger:

Details of Corzine’s state budget proposal released yesterday show the first significant, across-the-board increases for schools since 2000, with double-digit increases in some middle-class towns.

The biggest winners were places like Red Bank, Cliffside Park and West Orange, where increases as large as 18 percent were based mostly on large numbers of low-income students.

In 50 such towns, school aid will rise at least 10 percent, after a virtual freeze that lasted more than half a decade. The budget proposal now moves to the Legislature for review.

“I thought I read it wrong,” Red Bank Superintendent Laura Morana said. “I saw 18.6 percent (increase) and thought it must be an error.”

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CODE WORD: ENFORCEMENT

Red Bankers have heard a lot about code enforcement in recent months. There appears to be a consensus that a lack of vigor in holding absentee landlords accountable for housing violations is at the root of rental-house overcrowding, particularly but not exclusively on the West Side.

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This, in turn, has contributed to challenges ranging from noise and litter to a burgeoning school population that does not speak English as a first language, imposing additional education costs on taxpayers, say critics.

Pat Menna ran for mayor promising to beef up code enforcement. Now that he’s taken office, what can residents expect in terms of action?

Some answers might be had tomorrow night at the River Street Commons when the Westside Community Group hosts a code enforcement forum beginning at 7p. The public is invited.

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RB LEADS NJ IN HISPANIC STUDENT JUMP

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Red Bank led all 623 school districts statewide in Hispanic student enrollment growth from 2000 to 2006, according to a report in today’s Star-Ledger.

An analysis by the state’s largest newspaper found that 57.9 percent of students in the Red Bank schools are today Hispanic, up 32.8 percent in the past six years.

Not coincidentally, Red Bank also led the state in terms of percentage decrease in African-American student enrollment, to 28.3 percent of the total, a drop of 26.7 percent in six years.

In three of the cities cited in the article—Red Bank, New Brunswick and Plainfield—”Hispanic children are actually replacing the black population in the schools,” the Ledger reports.

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TAKE-OUT TROUBLE?

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The West Side property that’s the site of Best Liquors has been home to retail businesses for 90 years. For a good part of that history, it was a grocery, but since 1965, it’s been a liquor retailer, says store owner Pankaj ‘Sunny’ Sharma.

Sharma, who’s 30 years old, drives a red sports car and could pass for a matinee idol, has had the store for just three years. But in that time, he says, he’s been diligent about upgrading and maintaining the property.

He matched public funds to pay for a colorful mural along the store’s exposed southern wall. He installed halogen lighting outside and a camera system so he could keep an eye on things from his cash register. Recently, after complaints from neighbors, he hired someone to come by twice a day to pick up wrappers and other debris that customers drop on the sidewalk.

“All of this stuff, the store didn’t have before,” says Sharma. The effect, he says, has been to improve both the look of the corner and the safety. “Even the police chief said that in the last five years, crime is down 70 percent at this corner,” he says.

But Sharma’s neighbors, all of them homeowners, aren’t buying it. Citing a welter of complaints about noise, littering, public urination and prostitution that they say is getting worse—and which they link directly to the store’s presence—they insist that it’s time for the shop’s long run to end.

No matter what it takes, they say, it’s time to shut Sunny down.

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WHITE FLIGHT HASTENS, BUT NOT HERE

Data-miner Robert Gebeloff of the Star-Ledger has a story today on accelerating white-flight from New Jersey, a trend demographics experts attribute to job-creation elsewhere and the high cost of living and taxes in the Garden State.

From the article, based on new U.S. Census figures:

New Jersey’s minority population grew nearly 400,000 between 2000 and 2005, the Census’ 2005 race and Hispanic-origin population estimates show, while the white population fell more than 94,000.

As a result, whites now make up 63 percent of the state’s population—compared with 67 percent five years ago, 74 percent in 1990 and 79 percent in 1980.

Five New Jersey counties—Union, Middlesex, Bergen, Passaic and Essex—are among the 25 in the nation with the largest loss of white population this decade, according to the Census.

But the Caucasian exodus is not evident in Monmouth County. Instead, the white population in Monmouth grew 0.7 percent, or 3,691 individuals from 2000 to 2005, Gebeloff reports (in tables that are in the Ledger’s print version, but not online.)

What also stands out in the county-by-county breakdowns Gebeloff provides are the changes in Monmouth County’s minority populations, which overall grew by 3.4 percent.

While the number of African-American statewide rose 3.2 percent, Monmouth’s fell by 1.2 percent, or 586 residents. Monmouth was one of only five of New Jersey’s 21 counties to show declines in that category.

At the same time, Monmouth’s Hispanic population soared 27.4 percent, or 10,454 individuals, well above the statewide growth of 18.8 percent.

The Asian-origin population in Monmouth rose 24 percent, or by 5,911 persons, compared to a statewide growth in that segment of 27.4 percent.

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