By Michele J. Kuhn
RED BANK – Come the start of the school year on Sept. 6, classes will be a bus ride away for most of the district’s youngest students.
Faced with a stiff increase in the cost of leasing off-site classroom space to accommodate all the 3- and 4-year-old pre-K students in the borough, school officials severed their relationship with St. Anthony of Padua and struck new ones with other locations.
The district will be using classroom space in Little Silver, Tinton Falls and two locations in Middletown. It will continue to use space in Red Bank at the Monmouth Day Care Center, Head Start, and two classrooms in the district’s primary school, Superintendent Laura Morana said.
The space will accommodate the expanded program, which is financed by state grant money.
District officials decided to discontinue their use of space at St. Anthony’s due to a proposed increase in the cost of the lease, Morana said.
“The cost of the lease was something that was a lot higher than we anticipated,” Morana said.
The district received state Department of Education approval and additional funding, for a total of $4.178 million, to expand its full-day, pre-K program. By increasing the amount of classroom space, educators will be able to accommodate all 345 students enrolled in the program, Morana said.
Without the additional space, she said there would have been about 95 pre-K students on a waiting list.
To accommodate the enrollment, Morana said the district will lease four classrooms at Red Bank Regional High School, two classrooms at Middletown Reformed Church, other church space in Lincroft, and classrooms in a YMCA facility in Tinton Falls.
“We wanted to make sure all of our children who were interested in being part of our program can be in the program,” she said.
“It was better to offer full enrollment,” even if it meant having to send children out of the district, said Board of Education President Ann Roseman. “People were very disappointed in previous years when they couldn’t be accommodated, when there wasn’t enough room.”
Since establishing the program four years ago, the district has used space at St. Anthony’s. The district had been paying about $60,000 a year for the use of four classrooms. This year the church sought a 27 percent increase in the lease, forcing the board of education to seek other space, according to Morana and Roseman.
The cost to the district for the Middletown site was not immediately available, but was significantly lower than St. Anthony’s to warrant the move and cost of transportation, Roseman said.
“It’s been an amicable relationship for the last two years” with the district, said the Rev. Anthony Carotenuto, St. Anthony’s pastor. “Unfortunately, it just came down to money,” with the district rejecting what Carotenuto called “a modest increase” to cover utilities and depreciation of the facility.
Red Bank is one of four non-Abbott school districts in the state to receive full funding for the state’s Early Childhood Education Expansion Initiative for its full-day program.
To accommodate the program and its students, the district has hired an additional six teachers, six instructional assistants, a full-time secretary and made a part-time nurse full time. The district also moved a preschool education supervisor to full time from part time and hired an additional lunch aide, Morana said.