EGG HARBOR TOWNSHIP - The Egg Harbor Township school board adopted a $116.9 million budget for the upcoming school year Tuesday night that includes slashing 70 teaching, administrative and support staff jobs throughout the district and several cuts to middle and high school programs, sports and clubs.
More than 100 residents and school workers packed Alder Avenue Middle School for the school budget presentation and public hearing. School officials explained the district's grim financial situation to them.
Superintendent Scott McCartney said the district experienced a "terrible storm for education." Spending will decrease by $1.7 million, or 1.6 percent. But the district will get $5.4 million less in state aid next year. The district also got a $3.7 million cut in state funding this year, and school officials shifted money from the surplus fund that otherwise would have been used for the 2010-2011 budget.
To make up the difference, McCartney said the district tried to "spread it out as much
as possible" by reducing personnel costs by $4.7 million and programs by $3.4 million, and increasing the tax levy by $3.9 million. One of the jobs that would be eliminated - the assistant food administrator - is currently vacant, McCartney said.
McCartney said that the school district has been very frugal over the years, and he showed that it spent less than the state average in areas such as cost per pupil and staff salaries and wages compared with other school districts of the same size.
He also noted that while the township's student population has grown over the past decade, state aid has remained about the same.
Board of Education President James Galvin said there have been some initial talks with the district's two unions about possible concessions, and he hopes those talks could restore some jobs that would be lost.
The adopted budget includes a tax levy of $66.7 million. If it is approved by voters April 20, the tax rate would go up 13.5 cents, to $2.71 per $100 of assessed value, Business Administrator Kathy Bechtel said.
Nine township residents and school workers spoke out during the public comment portion of the meeting. Most of them said they understood the district's plight and were upset about the state aid cuts.
Linda Lindacher, a middle school English teacher and mother of two, said she thought Gov. Chris Christie's cuts were "unfair and unwarranted, especially since he rescinded the tax on the wealthy and putting the burden on the lower and middle class, and the children."
Lindacher said everyone is s upset about the township school budget cuts, "but it's unavoidable. The money from the state has to change."
Anthony Gaud, an 1987 graduate of Egg Harbor Township High School, said he was shocked by all of the program cuts, especially at the middle schools. Gaud, the parent of two elementary schoolchildren, said he hoped the unions and school officials could come up with a concession agreement and save some of the jobs and after-school academic programs slated for elimination.
"The most important thing is to maintain staff and education," he said.
Another township resident, Nina Printy, said she and other parents should volunteer to help get funding to reinstate the clubs that would be cut in the budget. Printy, who has a daughter at the high school, said she would even be willing to serve as a club supervisor.
"It's a tough situation, and the board is doing what they can," she said. "The piece that's missing is the parents, and if we step up, we can make a difference."
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