Freehold: Districts try to put brakes on spending

FROZEN: Schools chiefs must veto the nonessential

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By Joshua Riley and Jennifer Bradshaw

As of 4 p.m. today, the Freehold Township School District’s budget will be frozen.

All purchase orders — typically filed electronically for the business administrator’s review — now have to be approved by Superintendent William J. Setaro. He will now ask the budget managers to justify the requested purchase.

The new practice is the district’s way of answering the state’s call to freeze non-essential spending for the rest of the school year during the tough national economic climate.

But defining nonessential spending may be difficult for districts, which have complete control over reducing costs.

“What’s essential in the eyes of the state is not always what’s essential in the eyes of parents,” said Middletown schools’ business administrator Bill Doering.

State Education department spokesman Rich Vespucci defined “nonessential” as any expenditures outside of instruction or contracted payments.

Every school district has discretionary spending that can be cut during this “unprecedented hard time,” Vespucci said. The school board should meet the questions and concerns of the public on these spending cuts and how they are to be applied, he said.

At Freehold Township schools, not every item will be on the chopping block. A class trip already booked but not paid for, for example, will still be allowed, Setaro said. He also hopes to go forward with air conditioning projects at the Clifton T. Barkalow Middle School and the Joseph J. Catena Elementary School.

“We’ll certainly be reviewing to see if anything can be cut, (but) we feel that anything we do is essential,” Freehold Regional High School District spokeswoman Ilse Whisner said.

Any cuts would be up to the district’s board of education, she said.

In Middletown, Doering will review the district’s budget along with Superintendent Karen Bilbao for possible areas of a spending freeze.

Some districts, however, had already scaled back their spending.

Toms River Regional School District Superintendent Michael Ritacco said gasoline prices had caused the district to tighten spending earlier this school year. The district plans to cut back by postponing some equipment purchases, copier machines for example, that were recommended but not immediately necessary, Ritacco said.

“We tried to limit our spending to absolute necessity,” he said. “This year’s budget process is going to be extremely difficult.”

In Holmdel, schools have already been implementing spending freezes in certain areas of the budget, such as general supplies, business administrator Michael Petrizzo said.

While the Jan. 16 letter from the state Education Commissioner Lucille E. Davy does not come as a surprise to the district, it is a “telling sign” of the times, he said.

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Staff writer Kim Predham contributed to this article.
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Freehold: Superior Court employee altered checks

A finance clerk working for the state Superior Court in Monmouth County has been charged with theft and official misconduct for altering checks collectively worth more than $18,000, the Monmouth County Prosecutor’s Office said Tuesday. Lisa Morton, 41 Freehold….

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Freehold: 2 county election offices combined

Yet another reason why your voice matters. It’s the elected officials that think they can continue to just do as they please, and forget who they actually serve

Freeholders’ action opposed

FREEHOLD — The Monmouth County freeholders Thursday ordered the immediate consolidation of the operations of the Board of Elections and the Superintendent of Elections, saying state statute gives them the power to do so.

However, Board of Elections Chairwoman Leah Falk said she believes the consolidation is not proper and stems from a stalemate she said the board has had with the freeholders over hiring authority. Falk said she is seeking advice from the state Attorney General’s Office on whether the consolidation can be halted.

David Wald, spokesman for Attorney General Anne Milgram, said, “This decision is under review by our office.”

Falk, who is a Democrat, had said she was concerned that Republican Freeholder William C. Barham, the board’s former director, was interfering in board operations. The conflict escalated last week when a longtime Republican activist, Mary Fran Lane, was assigned from a Hall of Records position to the Board of Elections. Falk said she opposed the transfer.

But Barham said the freeholder board, which has a Republican majority, made the choice to consolidate in a “bipartisan manner,” and Democrat John D’Amico Jr. said, “I’m glad we’re moving forward.”

“There was no meddling,” Barham said.

“I think we all agree it’s an unfortunate situation with the presidential primary in New
Jersey coming up on Feb. 5,” D’Amico said.

Wald said the configuration of elections offices varies from county to county.

In Monmouth County, Hedra Siskel is the elections superintendent, a position that includes an office staff and is under the direction of the attorney general. The superintendent enforces election laws, acts as the registration commissioner, and has custody of the county’s voting machines, among other duties.

The Board of Elections — which is overseen by four commissioners appointed by the freeholders — has its own staff and is responsible for the selection of polling places, enforcement of accessibility laws, creation and maintenance of election districts, regulation of challengers, and the appointment and training of board workers. The board, made up of two Republicans and two Democrats, also oversees absentee ballot matters and tallies provisional ballots.

The five people working for the Board of Elections “are absolutely demoralized” by the freeholders’ order, Falk said.

We don’t know who their boss is,” she said.

Barham disputed that. He said county Human Services personnel had been to the elections office and explained the new arrangement.

Offices for both the board and superintendent are in the same building on Halls Mill Road, Freehold Township.

Freeholder’s statement

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