Red Bank Board on track to spend only what’s needed and keep taxes down… again!

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RED BANK — The best word officials are using to describe the Board of Education budget for the coming school year is maintenance.

While the total budget figure hasn’t been finalized, the district seems to be on track to spend what’s needed and keep taxes down for a second year, said Laura C. Morana, superintendent of schools.

The budget is scheduled to be presented to the school board next Tuesday.

Our goal is to do what’s in the best interest of the school system, but to (also) do a self-assessment and look at what we need verses just increasing,” said Morana, who briefed the board Tuesday.

This is the second year the district has used zero-based budgeting, Morana said. That practice requires department heads to build their budgets from zero instead using last year’s figure as a starting point.

Limiting taxes would be welcomed by borough taxpayers. Last year, the board adopted a $15.7 million budget for this school year, which increased the local school tax rate by one penny per $100 of assessed value.

That meant for the owner of an average home in Red Bank, valued at $404,980 a year ago, the annual increase was $40.50 in local school taxes. The prior school year, the owner of a home valued at $179,212 — the average at the time — saw a $69 school tax increase.

Red Bank had a property revaluation in the fall of 2006 that took effect last year, increasing property values and some tax bills.

A bonus in this year’s budget is an additional $335,803 in state aid, some of which will be used to enhance school security and could be used to fund repairs and maintenance, which the district had to put off.

Finance Committee Chairman Ben Forest gave the board a “laundry list” of items needed to keep the schools in good condition, from replacing windows in the middle school to new desks for the primary school.

Facilities Committee Chairwoman Rosemarie Kopka added a few things to the list to be considered, such as classroom computers.

Forest also said that the primary school parking lot and sidewalks need to be repaved.

“They’ve been put on the back burner,” Forest said. “A lot of it is expensive, but if we don’t do things like fix the windows, it will haunt us later with water damage. These are things we’ve got to do.”

One thing the district doesn’t have to worry about is using staffing cuts to balance the budget, Morana said.

“We’re in the second year of new programs and strategies, so were not dealing with new things,” Morana said. “We’re looking at maintaining what we have.”

One question school officials have is how much money the state will require the district to transfer to the Red Bank Charter School. Last year, $1.79 million was transferred to the charter school, which is entitled to a portion of the district’s state funding at an amount set annually by the state Department of Education.

One concern of school officials is that the local appropriation for courtesy busing of students — who under state rules live too close to school for the state to provide aid to bus them — isn’t deleted from the budget by county or state education officials.

Most of the borough’s intersections and five busy railroad crossings are deemed too hazardous by police for children to cross while walking to school, Morana said.

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