Manalapan – Englishtown: School district worried about next year

Budget restraints may eliminate 9 jobs

n anticipated budget shortfall in the 2009-10 school year could force the Manalapan-Englishtown Regional Schools district to restructure its schools and eliminate nine teaching positions, according to the schools superintendent.

Superintendent of Schools John Marciante said three teaching positions could be cut in 2009-10 from Manalapan-Englishtown Middle School due to a decrease in enrollment there. He said those positions, in addition to another six district teaching positions, could be eliminated as teachers retire.

Marciante said the district would require fewer teachers if it uses a flexible block schedule for some of its students. The scheduling allows faculty to teach subjects to several shifts of students, as opposed to one teacher instructing the same group throughout the day.

In a letter to parents issued Wednesday, Marciante said the largest single component of the district’s budget — roughly $43.4 million in a $69 million spending plan — is salaries and benefits.

“It is only through cuts in this area that significant budget reductions can be addressed,” Marciante said in the letter.

“People retiring . . . at the top of the guide make somewhere between $80,000 and $85,000 plus benefits of up to $15,000,” Marciante said in an interview Thursday. “That rounds out to $90,000-plus per person. Multiply that by 9 and that’s more than $800,000 (in savings) right there.”

Marciante said the proposal also would restructure the Clark Mills, Lafayette Mills, Milford Brook, Taylor Mills and Wemrock Brook schools as first- through fifth-grade schools. Pine Brook School would house sixth-graders.

Clark Mills, Milford Brook and Taylor Mills are currently first- through third-grade schools. Lafayette Mills, Pine Brook and Wemrock Brook house grades four to six.

Manalapan-Englishtown Middle School would continue to house grades seven and eight.

He said the district would save funds with shorter bus routes, as students would no longer have to travel across town to get to what will be their respective neighborhood schools.

Business Administrator Joseph Passiment said the proposal was driven by the new state funding formula and the recently passed legislation that restricts the amount of taxes to be raised. He said the district is anticipating a budget reduction of more than $1 million for 2009-10, and another substantial reduction in 2010-11.

Passiment said district state aid will remain flat for three years, and state law restricts tax-levy increases to 4 percent. The district projects enrollment will stay flat at roughly 5,500 students, he said.

“(A $2.7 million increase in state aid in 2007) was a one-shot deal,” Passiment said. “Health benefits, gas, heat, electricity, telephones, supplies and materials, everything is going up.

“If I can only raise my revenue stream from taxes 4 percent and my state aid remains the same, the current costs I have escalating for next year will result in a shortfall. That’s a given,” Passiment said.

Parents had mixed feelings about the proposal.

“I think it would be great to have everything more localized so that you aren’t driving all the way across town,” said Meryl D’Amato, whose 9-year-old son Nicholas attends Clark Mills School. “Nicholas is on the bus for an hour, and that would cut the bus drive by probably a half-hour.”

Kim Waters said she wasn’t pleased with what she’s heard of the proposal so far. She has 10-year-old twins at Clark Mills School whom she expects to move to Wemrock Brook in fourth grade.

“In fifth grade I have no idea where they would go,” Waters said. “Then in sixth grade they would have to go to another school. That would be quite a lot of switching around for my kids. I don’t want to seem negative about it until I hear more of the facts, but that was my first reaction.”

Marciante said the plan has not been finalized, and public meetings will be held at 7:30 p.m. May 8, May 21 and June 5 at the middle school to get community input.

“The change in the state law allows us to really predict going forward,” Marciante said. “All we’re estimating here is the costs going up for utilities and insurance, and we’re making modest expectations for raises . . . What I think people need to understand with the budget change by the legislation is this is a real number.”

APP – By Alesha Williams Boyd

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