LINWOOD - The Mainland Regional High School Board of Education agreed to use an additional $275,000 announced during a special meeting Monday night to restore freshman sports and cut debt service payments.

The joint budget meeting with the district's constituent municipalities was necessary because voters rejected the budget at the polls April 20. That was the 11th time in 12 years, board President John Medica said.

But the $275,000 meant the district would not face additional cuts.

Medica said the money came from interest on $42 million the district borrowed last year. Voters approved the referendum for a construction and renovation project, and Medica said little had been spent thus far.

Medica said the district had about $125,000 on hand from interest, and expected to raise another $150,000 in the fiscal year that begins July 1.

Medica had told The Press of Atlantic City earlier this month that the district was looking into other sources of revenue. He said Monday that the district's bond counsel only recently OK'd using the interest.

Officials from Linwood, Somers Point and Northfield suggested that $85,000 be used to restore freshman sports, and that the additional $190,000 should be used to cut district debt service payments.

It was not immediately known what effect the debt service reductions would have on local property taxes.

Northfield had faced a 6.5-cent increase in the regional school tax rate under the defeated budget, while a 9-cent increase was proposed for Linwood and an 11.1-cent increase for Somers Point.

But the budget had received mixed support in the communities. The $24.1 million spending plan had passed in both Linwood and Northfield, but the overwhelming defeat in Somers Point dragged down the overall vote totals.

In public comment, Linwood resident Shelly Furman asked that officials not make additional cuts, saying she was "appalled" at the Somers Point vote. Linwood resident Ken Goodman made a similar request, noting the close vote. It was defeated 2,048-1,974.

However, it was unclear how the municipal officials came to their conclusions, because the public and media were barred from that portion of the meeting, held behind a closed door.

During the school board's public comment period, several area residents asked officials to hold their discussions in public.

Frank Johnson, who identified himself as a school resource officer facing layoff because of the budget, approached the microphone on crutches. He was applauded after asking officials to openly and publicly discuss the options.

At the end of public comment, Medica temporarily adjourned the school board meeting. Officials from the sending districts then left the school auditorium and walked to the nearby Vocal Music Room to discuss the budget. Two reporters from The Press followed them.

The reporters were quickly asked to leave. Asked by Mainland Principal Robert Blake if the meeting should be open, Somers Point Councilman Carl D'Adamo said, "I already see that's going to be a problem" and "I want it closed."

Blake escorted the reporters from the room, saying "this is a caucus for the councils."

Asked for a person to explain the closing, Blake brought Linwood Mayor Richard L. DePamphilis III out to the hallway, who said these meetings are typically closed, adding "I certainly don't mind" if reporters attend.

DePamphilis re-entered the room to survey other officials' opinion, and then returned, saying "pretty much everyone" wanted the meeting closed.

They emerged from the room about 50 minutes later, and Medica resumed the meeting about 10 minutes after that, with Northfield Council President Tim Carew formally presenting the officials' proposal.

Staff Writer Chris Ramirez contributed to this report.

Contact Derek Harper:

609-272-7046