WILDWOOD — The city voted Tuesday night to cut $319,646 from the town’s school budget, but where those cuts will come from is ultimately up to the school district.
City Administrator Richard Deaney said the figure was the maximum the city could cut from the school district’s budget according to state Department of Education formulas.
Commissioner Al Brannen said the reduction should be made out of respect to the city’s taxpayers.
“We should reject the entire $319,646 and move forward,” Brannen said.
Voters here rejected the school district’s budget on April 20 with 90 people voting in favor of the school’s proposed $9,537,222 tax levy and 212 people voting against it.
Deaney said he and Brannen met with school officials, who explained that they were unsuccessful in attempts to renegotiate teacher contracts and find further budget reductions.
With its Tuesday night vote, the city offered suggestions on what savings could be made, such as not replacing a retired maintenance worker, eliminating or scaling back clubs, eliminating some assistant coaches and eliminating three teaching positions.
The school district, however, does not have to follow those recommendations about the specific items to eliminate from the budget.
School Business Administrator Greg Rohrman, reached by telephone after the City Commission’s vote, said he respected the city’s decision.
“We’re going to work with the city to find ways to economize,” Rohrman said.
The school district’s 2009-10 tax rate was 51 cents per $100 of assessed valuation and now, with the cuts and a decline in the city’s ratable base, that rate will increase by 1.6 cents for 2010-11.
Rohrman said the district will not replace a retiring maintenance worker and some retiring teachers. Cuts in extracurricular activities are also likely along with larger class sizes as the district finds ways to operate in difficult economic times, he said.
Brannen said now the city and school must work together and look at additional shared services and fundraising ideas such as holding a raffle to generate funds for athletic programs.
“Everybody has to think outside the box today,” Brannen said.
Mayor Gary DeMarzo said government budgets are driven largely by salary expenses for employees and the public can no longer shoulder the growing burden.
“Everyone can’t work for the government,” he said.
Among those speaking during public comment was Wildwood High School tenth-grader Patrick Kennedy.
The 16-year-old was nervous, but told the commissioners he was concerned about what the budget reduction would mean for the school.
“I’m kind of worried about the cuts like the guidance counselors,” he said. “A lot of my friends are worried.”
Brannen said he was equally worried because he knew the importance of a good education.
“We’re not out to hurt anyone, but these are hard times, Patrick,” Brannen said.
Carol Ann McDonald, president of the Wildwood Education Association, said she too understood the difficulties being faced, but teachers are not to blame for the state’s financial woes.
“It is not from our hides that these concessions need to come,” she said.
“The funding system in the state of New Jersey is broken. We’re working with a broken system,” McDonald said.
All agreed that the entire island should find ways to solve the financial problems straining taxpayers and discussed holding meetings for the public to share ideas.
“I think it’s the best thing — talking,” Brannen said.
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