By John Burton |
RED BANK — The district Board of Education, local state legislators, parents and taxpayers have reason to be happy, with the recent announcement of additional state aid.
Public school officials were recently notified the district will be receiving an additional $512,620 for the coming school year. The board of education formally voted to accept the money at its July 18 meeting.
“It is good news,” said Board President Frederick Stone, “and we’ll be able to do some things that will be able to help our kids.”
The money was made available in the Fiscal Year 2018 Appropriations Act – the state budget. The budget, according to state Department of Education press secretary David Saenz Jr., contains provisions to readjust state education funding distribution for districts that have been subject to underfunding in the past or to provide additional resources for enrollment growth, transportation and other areas.
Red Bank school officials and its state legislators have long complained that the local public school district has been inadequately funded based upon the state’s own formula. According to Superintendent of Schools Jared Rumage, over the last six years the district has been underfunded by $4.2 to $7 million in uncapped state aid.
Rumage noted state Sen. Jennifer Beck (R-11), who represents and lives in the borough, “has been fighting this battle for years now,” seeking funding equity for the district; state Assembly members Eric Houghtaling and Joann Downey, Democrats who have been in office for less than two years, “have jumped on board as of late,” showing their support, Rumage said.
The legislators, along with Rumage, district staffers, board of education members and parents have taken to the streets — quite literally — traveling to Trenton to demonstrate at the state capital building and vent their frustration for Gov. Chris Christie and state lawmakers.
“We were able to take our issue and involve other districts that face the same type of situation and make the case,” Beck said of their efforts for Red Bank and Freehold Borough, another underfunded school district in the senator’s legislative district. “And we successfully made that case.”
“I don’t think there is any question it made a difference,” Rumage said about the optics and voices on this issue.
The money is earmarked to hire additional staff, Rumage said, indicating the funds will allow the district to bring on six new employees, a combination of teachers and instructional aids for the 2017-18 school year.
Whether this is a one-shot payment or whether it will be a reoccurring resource for the district, Rumage acknowledged, “It’s hard to say.”
Stone said, “I think that’s yet to be determined.”
The superintendent said there will be a new governor and Legislature next year, so there’s always a question of what that could mean. However, Rumage and Stone are hopeful.
“I believe it’s a step in the right direction for something that’s going to need to be a continuing conversation,” Rumage said.
Beck is even more optimistic. “I believe we will see new revenue dedicated to grossly underfunded districts going forward,” she said.
Up to this point, the superintendent explained, “We’ve been able to maintain the status quo for years without cutting.” However, he warned, “The issue is what we haven’t been able to add,” in the way of staff and programs.
The district has been seeing a continuing increase in enrollment, straining staffing and facilities, he said, noting the district went from about 900 students in 2009 to approximately 1,400 currently.
“There are still a lot of challenges,” Rumage said.
Those challenges are why “Our focus is on securing additional school aid and working toward long-term solutions that give our local schools stability and security,” said Downey.
This article was first published in the July 27 – Aug. 3, 2017 print edition of The Two River Times.
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