VINELAND - The city Board of Education met with City Council's budget committe Monday night to review and refine the district's recently defeated budget.
The discussion lasted about an hour and a half, with the board presenting its hard-fought case to the available council members, who promised to relay it to the entire council and come up with a solution within the next week.
A decision on the budget is expected Tuesday during City Council's work session. Council Vice President Ed Conrow said a special meeting likely will be called before Tuesday to allow council to approve the budget as is or with changes before the state's May 19 deadline.
Although the proposed $190 million budget included no tax increase, it was defeated by a total of 17 votes April 20.
A little more than 11 percent of the city's more than 37,000 registered voters participated in an election that ousted two longtime board members and defeated, in essence, a tax rate that has not changed in more than a decade.
The proposed tax rate of $1.037 per $100 of assessed property value is less than the district's tax rate from nearly two decades ago, district Business Administrator Kevin Franchetta said.
City Council could cut the proposed budget by as much as $406,000, but no more due to state regulations.
Former board President Frank Giordano, who served on the board for 12 years before losing in the last election, attributed the budget's defeat to an organized voting effort led by United Auto Workers Local 2327. The union represents many workers in the district, some of whom were targeted for job cuts.
District Superintendent Maryann Banks, in her opening statement, said the proposed budget, while cutting 82 positions, would have minimal impact on the classroom.
The board has had to make difficult budget decisions with a projected $9 million cut in state aid, she said, but has tried to limit the effect on students.
She also said she did not believe 17 votes mandated change.
Board member Anthony Fanucci said the board has learned from the budget process and hopes to open it up to more public discussion in the future. He said forums such as the one presented Monday night held before the budget vote could educate voters on what is a complicated process.
The meeting was held at Gloria Sabater Elementary School on Southeast Boulevard to accommodate a large expected crowd, but only about 25 residents showed up to hear the discussion.
During the public hearing, two men spoke, each in support of the budget. They each received applause from the small crowd.
Vineland Education Association President Sal Emburgia asked the assembled board and council members to picture their ideal classroom scenario. The funding that could be cut could make a dramatic difference in the classroom, regardless of what decision the council made, he said.
"If your vision is higher class sizes, less programs, then cut the $400,000," he said.
Councilman Doug Albrecht expressed some disappointment with the meeting, saying it did not offer the council and the board enough chance to completely discuss the budget. He also said it was the council's responsibility to review the defeated budget and that it was wrong to discount the voters' decision to reject it just because the margin was small.
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