STAFFORD TOWNSHIP - The Southern Regional School District plans to eliminate 66 positions after the state cut the district's aid by 84 percent, officials said Monday evening.

Superintendant Craig Henry said cuts will be made to nontenured and tenured faculty and staff. He said 36 stipend positions will cut, along with 13 certified positions and 17 noncertified positions. The stipend positions consist of coaches and club advisers, Henry said.

"At this time, these are positions that will be cut and the people will not be asked to return," he said.

The district also has decided to cut the adult education program. Henry added that not all student programs will be eliminated by the cuts.

"So when that last evening bus leaves here at 5:30 at night, this school is basically going to close down," Henry said after the meeting.

After presenting the 2010-11 budget to a packed room Monday, the $54 million spending plan was approved and the board then approved a recommendation for a reduction in force.

Henry said that in his 30-plus years as a school administrator, he has never experienced cuts of this magnitude.

"Cuts will be across the board and every department will feel it," he said.

One by one, the board members voted unanimously for layoffs in the district.

"It was very difficult and depressing to vote for this tonight," said board President R. Scott Zoladz, of Long Beach Township.

"I've lost sleep over voting on this," board member Steven Berkheiser said.

On Monday evening, members of the public asked about teacher contracts that will expire in June. Most of the questions were about salary freezes and benefit contributions by employees. Henry said employee benefit costs increased by 12 percent for 2010-11.

"Regardless of the budget crunch, the negotiations have just begun. There's a lot of information coming out of Trenton about salary freezes and benefits. But we can't discuss negotiations because it would be an unfair labor negotiating practice," Henry said. "Unfortunately, it looks like we're unwilling to disclose information, but we cannot discuss it."

Last week, the district learned it would lose $2.6 million in state aid that it received for the 2009-10 school year. The proposed budget passed Monday is $2.33 million lower than last year's budget. The board will send a total local tax levy of $38,205,086 to voters April 20.

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