Vernon Ogrodnek

By a vote of 9-1 the Atlantic City School Board approved a 2013-14 total school budget of $187.6 million that will lower the tax levy by almost $1 million but still raise taxes by about $35 per month for the average homeowner in the city.

None of the school board members spoke during the voting. Shay Steele was the only negative vote and Joan Glick was absent.

During the budget presentation Business Administrator Steve Moran said the operating budget would not increase the property tax levy. But during a presentation he did show how the loss of ratables in the city due mostly to casino tax appeals would still raise taxes by almost 25 percent.

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A home assessed at the city average of $229,000 will pay an additional $421.58 per year next year, or a total $2,123.85 in school taxes.

The property tax levy will drop from $134.5 million to $133.5 million. But the ratable base has also dropped from $18.1 billion to $14.4 billion.

Moran said district costs include fully staffing the new Richmond Avenue School and re-opening the Brighton Avenue School to relieve overcrowding at other schools. Utility costs will also rise because of the new schools and contracted staff salaries and benefits are also increasing. The operating budget makes up $162.4 million of the total budget, which also includes debt service on the new schools.

The district is also expecting about 280 students from Oceanside Charter School when it closes, but will retain almost $6.3 million it would have spent on tuition for the students to attend that school.

The district also got an additional $2.26 million in state aid, but Moran said local property taxes still make up 73 percent of the operating budget and only 11 percent comes from state aid. The rest is primarily federal aid.

Assistant Superintendent Sherry Yahn said the budget meets and exceeds the requirements of state and federal governments, including maintaining a reasonable class size and offering programs for enrichment, special education and English language learners.

The district is also contributing about $297,000 next year toward the completion of a $1.7 million renovation of the athletic fields, which started this year. The work includes new artificial turf for the football field, a new scoreboard, renovating the track around the field, repaving the tennis courts and upgrading the baseball diamond. The district used e-rate funds from the federal government to fund most of the project. The funds were delayed by a federal lawsuit, and were then allocated to the general budget.

Resident Sherry M. Elder said the 25 percent increase in taxes would be hard for many residents and she encouraged the board to go over every line item to find ways to save money.

“I have to look over my budget as a widow,” she said. “Look around, there are a lot of (for sale) signs out. If we don’t have any taxpayers to pay, we won’t have any schools.”

She said she wants the children to have the best, but asked the board to please pay attention to the costs.

“Don’t just assume this can go on,” she said.

Resident Joyce Molineaux asked about district legal fees. School officials did not have the specific amount, but Superintendent Donna Haye said they have been reduced over the last three years.

After the meeting, board President Patricia Bailey said they did look at ways to save money are are concerned about the ongoing tax appeals.

“We still have to run the schools,” she said. “What’s really scary is what could happen next year.”

Parent Randi Carter asked the district to review anti-bullying policies at New York Avenue School after her first-grade son was assaulted in his classroom by four students whom she said had been bullying him all year.

She said he had suffered a concussion, and district officials did agree to move her son to the Martin Luther King Complex because he was having so much anxiety about attending school. She and her father, Victor Hill, said they have started a petition to show district officials that they are not the only parents concerned about bullying at New York Avenue School and got about 30 signatures after school before school security stopped them..

“The teacher said he did not even see it,” she said of the attack on her son.

Haye said she had spoken to Carter, was investigating and would contact her this week.

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