BARNEGAT TOWNSHIP - The local school district was one of the first to say it almost certainly would have to cut positions, even before Gov. Chris Christie announced Tuesday that it might have to cut its budget by $1 million or more.
The district cautiously awaits the state's aid figures, likely by this afternoon, and it then has to turn around a preliminary budget by 6:30 p.m. Thursday for its regular meeting.
But even with flat state aid, the district would have to plug about a $1 million hole left by revenues no longer available that were used to eliminate a tax increase last year.
"There is no way to make up a million dollars without cutting some positions," Board President Bob Houser said Tuesday afternoon.
Houser said the board has planned to keep taxes stable if aid is flat, but district officials said Christie was vague in his budget address Tuesday about whether every district would see the same percentage cut or only certain ones.
"Right now it's a guessing game," Houser said.
The district anticipated $24.4 million in local tax revenue last year and about $21.4 in state aid, so a 5 percent aid cut - what Christie said would be the maximum - could mean at least $1 million less to use.
The neighboring Lacey Township School District declined comment before it receives the state's number.
"We have no reaction at this time," Superintendent Richard Starodub said. "I think to say anything before you know what you have for sure can impact the credibility of local administration."
But Houser said Barnegat simply would not have a choice, since it received about $1 million in interest last year from the fund for its recent capital improvements that it will not have again this year. That's despite ongoing negotiations with the municipal government and neighboring townships such as Stafford and Ocean to share services.
Last Thursday, the Barnegat Township Committee and the school board met to discuss each other's budgets, and from those talks the township has agreed to bond for sidewalks in order to save the school district substantial money on transportation costs. Those talks are the culmination of discussions between the two entities as the district tries to implement its Safe Routes to School plan, which encourages more students to walk and would eliminate the need for certain bus routes.
"It's a done deal," Deputy Mayor Al Cirulli said. "That'll pay for itself over and over for as many years as we're here."
Cirulli said officials from the township, school district, Stafford and Ocean townships are all working together to save money on various services, starting with waste-remocal costs. He also said that Little Egg Harbor Township has recently approached the governing body about possibly sharing building inspectors.
"That'll benefit all three townships," Cirulli said.
On Monday night, Mayor Jeff Melchiondo said that at the township's first meeting in April, the municipality and school district "will be in a position to take formal action to start the process of saving the taxpayers of Barnegat money by working closely with the schools."
On Tuesday night, the Board of Education planned to meet in executive session to discuss its budget and the implications from Tuesday's address.
Houser said those implications could be dramatic.
"If this governor takes any state aid away from this school district, it could mean huge problems for the district," he said.
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