By John Burton
RED BANK – An almost 13 percent increase in state education funding for the 2013-14 school year for the Red Bank school district “will help us move forward,” Superintendent Laura Morana said.
According to the state Department of Education (DOE), the district can anticipate getting a 12.9 percent increase, amounting to $339,218. It is the largest increase among districts in the Two River area.
Atlantic Highlands will receive an additional $2,937 in state money for a 2 percent increase. Henry Hudson Regional will get an additional $3,330 for a 0.4 percent increase. Highlands will get a 1.3 percent increase or $8,347 while the Oceanport district will receive an additional $3,577 for a 0.8 percent increase for the coming school year.
Most area districts’ funding is projected to remain flat. The area districts that are expected to receive the same amount of aid for 2013-14 as they did in 2012-13 are: Colts Neck, Fair Haven, Holmdel, Little Silver, Middletown, Monmouth Beach, Red Bank Regional, Rumson, Rumson-Fair Haven Regional and Shrewsbury.
“I wish I could say the money was some gift for education improvement purposes or tax relief,” Red Bank Board of Education President Ben Forest said. “However, the commissioner [of education Chris Cerf] is acting on a basis of need.
“Unfortunately, we’re going to be covering increasing costs and demands in our district,” Forest said.
DOE spokesperson Barbara Morgan said state education officials relied on a formula, looking at what districts needed to provide a thorough and efficient education as prescribed by state standards, and at the local district’s ability to pay its fair share of it. When there was a gap between the two, state aid will allow those districts to reach what is called in education parlance the adequacy budget, according to Morgan.
“That is what the state is providing,” through aid, she said.
The Red Bank school district has seen an enrollment increase during the last couple of years, with this year and next seeing a 5 percent jump districtwide, according to Morana.
“We’ll continue to see steady growth over the next five years,” the superintendent said.
There are 13 districts across the state that have seen significant enrollment jumps and have been getting more state aid to help them address it, including Red Bank. The district also has been getting additional state money to cover expansion of its full-day pre-K program.
But, Morana said, the district has to hire some additional teachers and faces rising costs for employee health insurance premiums, among other increases in spending.
“There is a laundry list of items that we are now going to be able to begin addressing,” with the increased aid, she said.
The additional aid also is “due to the fact that we’ve been underfunded for years and years,” Morana said.
She was appreciative that Gov. Chris Christie and the commissioner are addressing what she sees as a shortfall.
Without this and the other aid increases, the district would have faced tough choices for the enrollment jumps, including possibly expanding classroom size from its current 21-23 students to as many as 30 per class. “That would not have been a good decision. I could not in good conscience make a recommendation for that,” Morana said.
The district will not be keeping all of the more than $300,000 additional aid, however. As required by the state, the district will allocate about a third of it to the Red Bank Charter School, Morana said.
The district is slated to provide the charter school with $1.7 million for the 2013-14 school year, based on the state formula, according to the superintendent.