It's been almost a month since voters narrowly turned down the Central Regional school district's tax levy for the 2011-2012 budget by a margin of 106 votes.
The aftermath of that vote has pitted one town against four others. Governing bodies in school districts with defeated budgets are mandated by state law to examine the budgets to decide if a blanket cut should be made.
And that's part of the problem in the Central Regional school district, which accepts middle and high school students from five sending towns.
The budget passed in Island Heights, Ocean Gate and Seaside Heights. It went down in Berkeley Township and Seaside Park.
"If you want to pass a budget, you're at the mercy of the municipalities," schools Superintendent Triantafillos "Tom" Parlapanides said.
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 - who chose not to face the audience in the packed presentation room at Central Regional High School - were holding out for more. Much more.
They originally suggested $3 million in cuts. It was a number none of the other four towns could live with. Then Seaside Park officials came down to $1.5 million.
As it stands now, the Central Regional Board of Education has until next Thursday to decide whether to accept a $815,239 cut approved by all five towns late this week, or appeal the cuts to the state Department of Education.
The board met in closed session for 2.5 hours on Thursday, the third lengthy budget meeting this month.
"The board members are disgusted," schools Superintendent Triantafillos "Tom" Parlapanides said earlier today. "We are disgusted with it. It's cuts that will impact the kids and force us to make difficult decisions."
Eleven employees - nine teachers and two buildings and grounds employees - will lose their jobs on June 8, when school closes for the summer. Freshman sports and home economics courses were also cut in the budget presented to voters.
But this isn't just about the defeated budget.
"There are a lot of forces at work here," Parlapanides said.
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. You do the math.
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.
The Berkeley Township Council recently hired an outside counsel to fight the arrangement, which could leave Central Regional $421,000 short in state aid because the Seaside Park students attending Toms River schools can't be included in the aid head count.
Central Regional Board of Education members have until next Thursday to decide whether to accept $815,239 in cuts to the defeated budget or appeal the cuts to the state Department of Education.
But the Central Regional board wasn't ready to made a decision at last Thursday's meeting.
"They want us to try and come up with as many scenarios as possible," Parlapanides said. "The board's not ready to make a decision whether to appeal or make cuts."
One thing is certain. Parlapanides is determined to make sure the budget passes in all five towns next year. He will discuss a formal plan at a two-day administrator's retreat next month, after school is out.
"That's going to be our number one priority," he said. "'We're going to start pushing for the budget in September. We need to pass a budget."