Central Regional Board of Ed Members Vote 'With Disgust' to Approve Budget Cuts
Board members slam Seaside Park officials for lack of cooperation in budget process
That's how some Central Regional Board of Education members said they felt tonight when they voted 5 to 4 to accept $815,239 in cuts to the 2011-2012 budget.
"I think it's a damn shame our kids and staff are the victims of this," longtime board member Denise Pavone-Wilson said before she cast a yes vote. "Because of one town, we have to make major cuts. I'm disgusted. Now it's hitting the kids and our employees."
Board members had two choices. Either accept the cut, or appeal it to the state Department of Education.
School officials did not say where or who would be affected by the cut.
"We still need time to digest a number that large," Business Administrator/Board Secretary Kevin O'Shea told the audience. "We are going to have to come up with some solution in the near future."
The Central Regional board had done its best to operate as frugally as possible, board member Robert J. Everett Jr. said.
"We are very well aware of the economic conditions out there," he said. "It's kind of been a perfect storm out there. Sometimes your hands are tied. That was the case this year. I feel like we have a gun to our heads. We are being held hostage by Seaside Park. I don't feel they did their best."
Everett and several board members noted that Seaside Park officials had not faced the public during previous meetings on the budget earlier this month. They instead only attended the closed session portions, then left through a side door.
Newly-elected board member Michael Graichen - who holds the Seaside Heights seat - voted no. Graichen then took a swipe at Seaside Park officials for wasting money in lawsuits to try and withdraw from Central Regional.
"They have been duped on the assumption they are going to get out of Central Regional," Graichen said. "They are never going to get out of Central Regional. They better smarten up."
Seaside Park has been trying - so far unsuccessfully - to withdraw from the Central Regional district. Borough officials have claimed in court papers the state's school funding formula that uses property assessments to determine what a homeowner pays in school taxes is unfair. The average home in Seaside Park is assessed at $558,000. The average home in Berkeley Township is assessed at $204,000.
"The bottom line is this," Everett said. "They (Seaside Park officials) don't really care. We continue to spend money for this. Who wins in this? The lawyers."
"We never lose," Board Attorney Thomas Gannon quipped.
Also thrown into this complicated mix is an apparent arrangement made several years ago between now-disgraced former Toms River Regional Schools Superintendent Michael J. Ritacco and Seaside Park to allow some Seaside Park students to attend Toms River Regional for free. It hurts the Central Regional head count for state aid, school officials have said.
Central Regional has five sending towns - Berkeley Township, Ocean Gate, Island Heights, Seaside Heights and Seaside Park. Voters in Berkeley Township and Seaside Park defeated the tax levy portion of the budget on April 27 by a 106 vote margin.
Four of the towns - Berkeley, Island Heights, Ocean Gate and Seaside Heights originally agreed to zero cuts in the budget.
But Seaside Park municipal officials held out for much more. They originally suggested $3 million in cuts. It was a number none of the other four towns could live with. Seaside Park later came down to $1.5 million in cuts, then down to $815,239.
Newly-elected board member Tracy Mianulli - who holds the Seaside Park seat - said she had tried to talk with borough officials about the budget over the past several weeks.
"My kids are here," she said. "About 40 of our kids are here. We are very happy here. Unfortunately, there is a bigger issue at hand. I am here and I do support Central Regional. We are going to try and work something out."
The budget voters turned down called for the elimination of 11 employees, including nine teachers and two buildings and grounds employees. Freshman sports and home economics classes were also cut.
Central schools Business Administrator/ Board Secretary Kevin O'Shea said it was too soon to determine where additional personnel or programs would be cut.
"It's too big a number to digest in one week," O'Shea said after the meeting.
The board did receive one resignation and one retirement over the past week, "painless cuts" which could help, he said.
Board members Susan Cowdrick, who holds the Island Heights seat; Stephanie Jensen, who holds the Ocean Gate seat; Graichen and Robert Ray, who holds a Berkeley Township seat, voted no on the resolution.
Schools Superintendent Triantafillos "Tom" Parlapanides noted that 89 percent of the district's budget is funded by taxpayers. Central Regional receives only 11 percent in state aid, far lower than other neighboring districts.