RED BANK: SCHOOLS HEAD MORANA TO RETIRE

laura morana 111709Superintendent Laura Morana in her office in 2009. (Click to enlarge)

Red Bank schools Superintendent Laura Morana is leaving the district at the end of the month, according to a measure approved at a school board meeting Wednesday night.

According to a late addition to the meeting agenda, the board accepted her resignation “for the purpose of retirement,” effective September 30.

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RED BANK PRE-K: ALL IN, IF NOT ALL IN TOWN

Teacher Kelly Hogan greets a returning four-year-old in her new classroom at RBR Thursday. Below, students gets ready to draw their own portraits.  (Click to enlarge)

By JOHN T. WARD

Red Bank crossed an educational milestone Thursday when, for the first time, it opened its doors to 345 three- and four-year-olds, leaving out no children eligible for its pre-K program, officials said.

The fact that only 11 of the  23 classrooms to house the newly-expanded program are actually in Red Bank appears not to be much of an issue to parents, a “really excited” district Superintendent Laura Morana told reporters on a tour of four classes at Red Bank Regional High, in Little Silver, on opening day.

“Parents are simply delighted” that the program, funded with $4.1 million from the state Department of Education, is available to all kids in the three-and-four-year-old cohort, Morana said. “If any are upset, I haven’t heard it.”

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NEW PRINCIPAL NAMED AT RED BANK PRIMARY

By JOHN T. WARD

Red Bank Primary School will have a new principal in September, and she’s a tweeter.

The district board of ed approved the selection of Erin Mulligan-Pierre, right, Tuesday night to replace Rick Cohen, said Superintendent Laura Morana.

The two-school district will also have a new business administrator, replacing Annie Darrow, who recently took a job with the Howell school district.

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PRE-K BEGINS YEAR WITH 60 STAYING HOME

head-start-090611The lights were on Tuesday morning as the staff awaited the arrival of pre-k students for the first day of the school year at the Head Start school on Drs. James Parker Boulevard. (Click to enlarge)

Red Bank’s multiyear ramp-up to a full pre-kindergarten program reaches a new plateau Tuesday, with room for every four-year-old whose parents desired enrollment having a classroom seat.

But opening day of the 2011-’12 school year also means that fewer three-year-olds could be accommodated than initially expected, leaving some parents disgruntled, says Superintendent Laura Morana, who oversees the two-school district.

“Maybe one thing parents don’t understand is that we cannot accept every three-year-old,” she says. “There is a five-year program calling for gradual expansion of the program to 2013-’14, when all three- and four-year-olds will be enrolled. It’s not as though we’re neglecting the three-year-olds.” Read More »

STATE AID BOOST COMES WITH QUESTIONS

c-christieGovernor Chris Christie at a Middletown town hall meeting in January. (Photo by Dustin Racioppi; click to enlarge)

By DUSTIN RACIOPPI

Governor Chris Christie’s announcement Wednesday of how he’s apportioning $850 million in aid to school districts was welcome news to superintendents, who last year took axes and scalpels to their budgets when Christie froze funding.

But while any additional funds are welcome, local school leaders say they’re still in the dark over one big question: how are they going to be able to use it?

“We’re still, right now, sort of waiting for additional guidance from the Department of Education how they would like us to proceed with additional funding,” said Jim Stefankiewicz, superintendent of Red Bank Regional High School in Little Silver. His school got a whopping 147-percent boost in state aid. “Information from the governor’s office said that they would really like it to be earmaked more for property tax relief, which we are very open to and considering.”

But until official word comes down what the money can be used for, Stefankiewicz, like other leaders, is in a holding pattern.

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RED BANK CRAMS FOR MORE PRE-K SPACE

pre-k-paintPre-kindergarten student Leslie Herrera at Red Bank Primary School. (Photo by Dustin Racioppi; click to enlarge)

By DUSTIN RACIOPPI

Demand for Red Bank’s heralded pre-kindergarten program is spiking, and the school district is on the hunt for more space — and money — to offer every three- and four-year-old in Red Bank the chance to attend.

Superintendent Laura Morana said she’s involved in serious discussion and has a “pretty good lead” to add four more classrooms at a sixth location for the borough’s scattered pre-k classroom setup to accommodate a waiting list that precluded 76 three-year-olds from getting into the program in the 2011-12 school year.

“If we can get four more classrooms then everyone in Red Bank will have the opportunity,” she said.

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BASEBALL, SOFTBALL RETURNING TO RBMS

dan-campbellDan Campbell, a member of the Red Bank Middle School Athletics Foundation, says spring sports will go on, but financial support is needed. (Photo by Dustin Racioppi; click to enlarge)

By DUSTIN RACIOPPI

Despite statewide funding cuts that translated to the scrapping of all athletics last year at Red Bank Middle School, sports will, as promised, return to Red Bank.

The Red Bank Middle School Athletics Foundation, which started in November with a small group of parents, announced last week that spring baseball and softball are back on the roster.

And with a little in-kind support from the school district, the group is bringing the spring season back without a dime of taxpayer money, member Dan Campbell said.

“I don’t think I can find words to really express the work this foundation has done to support the sports,” Superintendent Laura Morana said. “I have a lot of admiration and appreciation for the work that they’re doing.”

It hasn’t been an easy task, and will continue to be a challenge, Campbell said.

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RED BANK SCHOOL BUDGET RAISES TAX 1.9%

taxesBy DUSTIN RACIOPPI

The Red Bank Board of Education unveiled its 2011-12 budget last week, a plan that includes difficult decisions but avoids drastic ones, said Superintendent Laura Morana.

Sports, fields trips and capital projects are, like last year, off the table, and a handful of positions will be eliminated under the $19.45 million spending plan.

That doesn’t necessarily equate to job losses, though, Morana said.

“I am positive everyone will be absorbed” somewhere else in the district, she said.

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RED BANK STUDENTS OWN UP TO GRADES

student-conferenceFourth-grader Desiree Marshall shows her parents and explains the work she’s done this year in Red Bank Middle School’s first student-led conferences. (Photo by Dustin Racioppi; click to enlarge)

By DUSTIN RACIOPPI

It was a nerve-wracking week for fourth graders in Red Bank.

As part of a new initiative to revamp parent-teacher conferences, the students had to steel themselves to step into the spotlight on Wednesday night by replacing the teacher and explaining their own progress this year.

“Everybody was nervous this week,” said Allysa Miller, a science and social studies teacher.

But students took to the meeting with their parents surprisingly well, Miller said, fulfilling the district’s goal to have the children take responsibility for their grades and explain to their parents where they excel, where they need improvement and the goals they have moving forward.

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IN STUDENT TESTS, CHARTER TOPS DISTRICT

Charter2

Reflecting a statewide pattern, Red Bank Charter School students bested their district-school counterparts in standardized math and language tests in 2010, according to a report released Tuesday by the New Jersey Department of Education.

The report, titled “Living Up to Expectations,” is a comment-free compendium of tables comparing charter school test results in math and language arts against test results of students in the host districts.

Overall results are reported for grades three through eight, and reflect the outcomes of the New Jersey Assessment of Skills and Knowledge tests taken by students last year to comply with the federal No Child Left Behind law.

In Red Bank, results show the charter school outperforming the district at every grade in both subject areas by wide margins.

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PRE-K AT THE LIMIT, AND LIKELY TO STAY

pre-k2Supervisor of Curriculum and Instruction, John Bombardier, with a pre-k student. (Photo by Dustin Racioppi; click to enlarge)

By DUSTIN RACIOPPI

After two years of growth, the number of children in Red Bank’s lauded pre-kindergarten program is likely to stay static next school year, a direct result of the state’s dire budget situation.

“I don’t know that we’ll be able to expand, but we expect we’ll have the same number of children for next year,” Superintendent Laura Morana said.

Now taking up residence at various locations throughout the borough, the early education program tailored to three- and four-year-olds is at capacity, with 238 students, plus a waiting list.

And Morana can’t stop singing the praises of the state-funded initiative, in which only five school districts in the state were selected to participate.

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RBMS WILL GET SPORTS BACK, GROUP SAYS

rbmsThe leader of a grassroots group formed to save sports says Red Bank Middle School will see its sports program return. (Photo by Dustin Racioppi; click to enlarge)

By DUSTIN RACIOPPI

Just a few seconds after hearing earlier this year that all sports at Red Bank Middle School were being dropped for financial reasons, the thought popped into Gene Horowitz’s head: he had to find a way to bring them back.

“Right away I was thinking, it’s too important to too many kids,” said Horowitz, who has two sons in the middle school.

So he started dialing up some heavy-hitters in town so they could all put their heads together and find a way to make it happen. The Red Bank Middle School Athletics Foundation met for the first time Wednesday night. It’s no longer a thought. Sports will return, Horowitz said.

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MIDDLE SCHOOL LEADS THE WAY

pltwRed Bank Middle School teacher Elizabeth Willoughby oversees students doing research in a new program called Project Lead the Way. (Photo by Dustin Racioppi; click to enlarge)

By DUSTIN RACIOPPI

Reading from a textbook and writing down answers on a test are all well and good, but at Red Bank Middle School, they’re just two ways to acquaint students hands-on with concepts in math, science and more.

That’s where Project Lead the Way, a national initiative to spark “ingenuity, creativity and innovation” within students, comes in.

“It’s really trying to mold and influence this generation and fill a gap that’s been left in America,” said Chris Ippolito, one of two teachers involved in the program. “This is like a supplement to math, science, engineering, et cetera.”

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RETURN OF RBMS SPORTS HINGES ON VOTES

rbmsThe middle school is looking for votes to win a grant that would bring back its sports programs. (Photo by Dustin Racioppi; click to enlarge)

By DUSTIN RACIOPPI

If there’s any chance of sports returning to Red Bank Middle School, it’s got something like lottery ticket odds.

That’s why the school needs your help.

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BACK IN BLACK…AND RED AND WHITE

rbms-uniformsStarting in October, Red Bank’s public school students must wear uniforms. For now, it’s optional, but many have chosen to start the school year in according threads. (Photo by Dustin Racioppi; click to enlarge)

By DUSTIN RACIOPPI

Schools across The Green opened up the 2010-11 academic year today.

In Red Bank, many of the students not only got acclimated to the start of a new school year, but also a new look.

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SCHUNDLER MUM ON TRIP TO WOODSHED

stringsPre-K students playing string instruments greeted Education Commissioner Bret Schundler, in red tie, during his visit to the Red Bank Primary School this morning. (Click to enlarge)

He came, he listened, and he got choked up on his own words about “the vision of a beloved society” that quality education promises.

But one thing New Jersey Education Commissioner Bret Schundler did not do on a visit to Red Bank this morning was talk about a report that he’d gotten a dressing-down over the phone by Governor Chris Christie last Friday.

“It’s a great day to visit Red Bank Primary School,” Schundler said with a smile, when asked if a Star-Ledger report that Christie “tore into” him over a deal with the state teachers’ union was accurate.

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UNION TAKES FREEZE, AND GUV HAS PRAISE

hot-topic right[Update: This article replaces an earlier version, which cited contract terms that Superintendent Laura Morana says were reported incorrectly in both the Asbury Park Press and the Star-Ledger.]

Gov. Chris Christie has offered pointed praise for a pact, finalized late last week, under which Red Bank teachers agreed to a three-year wage freeze.

Christie’s called out the deal was in an opinion piece under his byline in the Star-Ledger Sunday. That followed Thursday night’s ratification by both the teachers’ union and the Red Bank Board of Ed of a contract that will bump each of the district’s 130 teachers up to the next pay grade in two of the three years, Superintendent Laura Morana tells redbankgreen.

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ON TUESDAY’S BALLOT: SCHOOL BUDGET BLUES

rbboe-041410Red Bank residents at Wednesday night’s presentation on the borough school district budget, led by Superintendent Laura Morana, below. (Click to enlarge)

morana-041410

Hoping to whip up support for a spending plan crafted in the midst of what Superintendent Laura Morana called “incredibly devastating” cuts in state aid, Red Bank school officials brought their mini roadshow on this year’s proposed budget to voters again last night.

Appearing at the River Street Commons senior citizens’ center — once, the River Street School — Morana sought to demonstrate that her administration built its $19 million spending plan from the ground up, with an eye toward maintaining the quality of education for the two-school district.

The spending plan goes before voters next Tuesday. Bottom line, for the owner of a home assessed at the borough-average $405,000: a 3.75 percent tax increase of $77.78, or $6.49 per month.

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BOARD PASSES BUDGET, TAX INCREASE

rb-budgetBoard members Ann Roseman and Ben Forest at Tuesday night’s session. (Photo by Dustin Racioppi)

By DUSTIN RACIOPPI

The Red Bank Board of Education unanimously passed a $19 million budget Tuesday night, a spending plan that will increase the tax levy if voters approve it next month.

Even with $1.4 million in reductions in the general operating portion of the budget, to $14.1 million, the budget will result in a 3.75 percent increase to the tax rate due to a drop in revenues and the state-mandate that local school districts use surplus funds to compensate for state aid cuts, school officials said.

Property owners would see an approximate 2 cent increase per $100 of valuation their tax bills, to $0.5371. For the owner of a home assessed at the borough-average $405,000, that would mean $2,175 in taxes, excluding levies for the the borough government, the regional high school and Monmouth County.

To make up for a steep cut in state aid to the two-school system, positions had to be eliminated — though there haven’t been any layoffs — and, among other extracurricular programs, all athletics at the middle school were dropped.

“To me that’s just incredible,” said a displeased Ben Forest, who heads the board’s finance committee.

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SCHOOL BOARD SAYS ‘NO’ TO PAY INCREASES

holcombe-hurdRed Bank Middle School music teacher Holcombe Hurd addressed the school board Tuesday in response to its decision not to approve union pay raises for 132 teachers. (Photo by Dustin Racioppi)

By DUSTIN RACIOPPI

After a year of contract negotiations, the Red Bank Board of Education, citing an “unprecedented” reduction in state aid and a difficult budget season, voted 6 -2 against a pay increase for the district’s unionized employees Tuesday night.

Board members described the vote as one of many difficult decisions in an economic climate in which Gov. Chris Christie has slashed state aid and forced school districts to use budget surpluses to make up for a loss in revenue.

“All of this takes place in the context of the worst economic period in the United States since the Great Depression,” board member Ben Forest told an audience of about 125 residents and teachers.

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QUESTIONS HAMPER DRAFT SCHOOL BUDGET

laura-moranaRed Bank Schools Superintendent Laura Morana talks to the local press Thursday about the district’s bleak budget outlook . (Photo by Dustin Racioppi)

By DUSTIN RACIOPPI

The waiting, as Tom Petty sings, is the hardest part. Only, he wasn’t working on a multimillion dollar school budget when he penned that tune.

Laura Morana, like so many school administrators in New Jersey who must have drafts of next year’s budgets turned in soon, is playing the waiting game, left in the dark by Gov. Chris Christie’s somewhat nebulous pledge to freeze state aid to school districts in order to make up for a huge budget gap.

When she sat down on Thursday to talk with the local press, the Red Bank schools superintendent was bouncing between budget meetings, just a couple of the many she’s had in the last couple weeks.

She’s already reconciled with the fact that the state is in a financial hurt locker. She’s even OK with dipping into the district’s $701,000 surplus to compensate for the reduction in aid, albeit begrudgingly. But considering she has to have a draft 2010-11 budget turned into the county prior to Christie’s state budget presentation on March 16, Morana would like to know what to expect.

“Right now we’re dealing with a million questions and nothing else. No answers,” she said. “You just don’t even know.”

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MORANA SEEDS PRESERVATION EFFORT

morana-lauraSuperintendent Laura Morana will give up half her pay raise this year to fund the effort at the Red Bank Primary School.

A push to transform the 17-acre Red Bank Primary School property alongside the upper Navesink River into a nature preserve and learning center is getting financial help from the borough schools superintendent.

Laura Morana has informed the board of education that she’ll to donate half of her scheduled raise in the coming year to the Red Bank Borough Education Foundation, a charitable organization created last fall to pursue the wetland project, according to a foundation press release issued Thursday.

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