ABSECON - Parents urged Board of Education members to preserve music, Spanish instruction and guidance as full-time programs after school district officials announced Tuesday night they would reduce related personnel to part-time status to help make up for $615,000 in state aid cuts and a $3 million drop in the city's ratable base.

The cuts, equivalent to 36 percent of expected aid, will result in eight layoffs, two retirements and cutbacks for some programs, Superintendent Jim Giaquinto said.

"I'm proud to say we were able to maintain a full-day kindergarten program, the class size we have now and all programs and services," Giaquinto said. "Some had to be tweaked back a bit, but no program students receive had to be cut out. ... That's not to diminish how painful the cuts will be."

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The board voted 6-0 to adopt the $12.3 million budget, which is $967,448 - or 7.3 percent - less than last year's $13.3 million financial plan.

If voters approve the 2010-11 budget, taxpayers will see a 1.7 percent increase in the tax rate, to $1.001 per $100 of assessed value, according to district documents.

That means a homeowner would pay $17 more on each $100,000 of assessed value.

Ida D'Alessandro and other parents praised the benefits realized by their children, thanks to the influence of previously full-time guidance counselors and band and choir instructors.

"Because these teachers gave (my daughter) a voice, she's now doing track," D'Alessandro said. "She stuck to the wall, she did nothing. For her to come out and have friends, I thank them. The other children are not going to be able to experience what my children have been able to experience from having them full-time."

Officials had negotiated districtwide pay increases of more than 4 percent before the state announced millions in aid cuts. They did not re-visit the agreements after hearing the district would get less aid, so the raises will stand for remaining workers.

Staff agreed to pay for health care, which offset nearly the entire salary increase, Board President William Thompson said.

"Absecon has always survived on a very small portion of state aide," Thompson said. "We have ... survived very well on that, very efficiently, and the state took no notice at all this year. Your budget ... has no relation to the money the state was giving to the districts. ... They just looked at our budget and took 5 percent of that like they did anyone else."

The district also cut spending by eliminating some summer enrichment programs and limiting staff development to internal activities, unless they are mandated, Giaquinto said.

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