LINWOOD - Telling the crowd gathered in Mainland Regional High School's auditorium that "there's not joy in this for anybody," school district Superintendent Thomas Baruffi laid out the fiscal challenges that led to the cuts in the proposed 2010-11 budget - including the loss of 13 teaching positions, five staff members and a number of programs, including freshman sports.
His main message, along with many of those who spoke at Wednesday's public hearing, was that cuts will only get worse if the budget isn't approved by voters April 20.
One parent, however, took matters into his own hands.
After Tom Donofrio, of Linwood, asked why residents couldn't just contribute money directly for a specific purpose - and was told that the nonprofit Mainland Regional Education Foundation exists for just that reason - he pledged to donate money to the school's imperiled strings music program.
"If you can save strings," Donofrio told Baruffi, "I'll give $5,000 tonight."
Before the public spoke, Baruffi presented the cuts - among them, teachers of reading, writing lab, social studies, math, science, world languages, music, physical education and English, as well as two secretaries, a custodian and a school resource officer - and the cuts in state aid that led to them.
State aid was reduced by $1,224,152, Baruffi said, with an additional cut of $1,068,441 of excess surplus money - a cut for which Baruffi criticized Gov. Chris Christie's administration, saying that was "local taxpayer money that belonged to people in these three communities. ... It's not about me standing up here and bashing the governor, but these are just facts."
He also said that the budget would mean a 9-cent increase in the tax rate for Linwood residents, an 11.1-cent increase for Somers Point residents and an effective 6.5-cent increase in Northfield, taking into account the revaluation - but added the vast majority of that was money designated for debt service, including the renovation/expansion project approved last year, and could not be changed.
That meant, he argued, that the general fund budget would just add 1.5 cents to Linwood and Northfield's tax levy and 1 cent to Somers Point's.
"If people make their decision based simply on the tax rate and cuts made, without listening to the facts, I don't know what to tell you," Baruffi said, adding that he was disappointed that more residents did not turn out.
Tracy Staub, of Linwood, was concerned about the expected cuts in the strings program, as was junior Colin Hutchinson, of Northfield, which in turn led to Donofrio's announcement.
Karen Varra, of Somers Point, the marching band president, said she was concerned about that program's future, while senior Robbie Rodriguez praised the music program that he had discovered after a broken arm sidelined him from sports.
Scott Raring, of Linwood, told Baruffi that "If you eliminate freshman sports, you're eliminating a lot of kids from ever being a part of something ... $80,000 for freshman sports sounds like a lot, but it's not."
Meanwhile, Amy and Joe Hirsch, of Linwood, who did not speak at the meeting, said upon leaving that she feels that the teachers union should consider Christie's call for a wage freeze.
"It has to affect everyone," Joe Hirsch said. "Given the general economic situation of New Jersey right now, we understand what Gov. Christie has to do. We all basically have to understand where he's coming from, and the union has to understand ..."
"How people feel," Amy Hirsch finished. "It's taken a toll on everyone."
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