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In Neptune City: School Board Seeks OK for $360,000 Referendum Question

 

coaster-news-200By DON STINE

Neptune City voters will be asked to approve a $360,000 referendum question in the November general election which would provide additional funding so extra-curricular activities and sports do not have to be cancelled at the Woodrow Wilson School for the 2014-2015 school year.

Approving the question will result in the average homeowner paying an additional $174.86 in annual school taxes. Residents will already see a 4.9 cent increase for each $100 of assessed valuation, or from $1.23 to $1.28, under the $8,369,442 total budget introduced on March 25. The average Neptune City home is assessed at $210,000.

All of the $360,000 would be solely dedicated to providing sports and extracurricular activities, like field trips, language studies, creative writing, the yearbook, and arts and crafts, Board of Education officials said during a three-hour meeting April 29.

About 150 residents packed the school gymnasium for the meeting and for the budget’s public hearing.

“If the referendum fails then these types of activities will not happen in the next school year,” Board President Christine Oppegaard said.

Interim Executive County Superintendent of Education Joseph Passiment, who attended the meeting, said the state-imposed two percent cap on spending increases does not allow for these extra school activities to be included in the 2014-2015 budget.

“Expenses must always equal revenues,” he said.

The extra money will also pay for new computers, software and training to help students take a new state-mandated educational test next year, which must be done by computer.

Resident Gordon Cousins, who is a teacher in Wall, said even if the referendum is approved in November the new computers, once ordered, may not be delivered in time for students to take the state tests in March, 2015 when there is a 20-day window of opportunity to have the tests completed and electronically filed.

“And if there is not enough money you may have to take another dip into the well,” he said.

Freeholder Thomas Arnone, who lives in Neptune City, said he believes it’s a “50/50 chance” that voters will approve the referendum and that perhaps it would be better to split into two separate referendums, for example one for sports and one for extra curricular activities.

“Then you are not putting all of your eggs in one basket,” he said.

School Business Administrator Bill Folk said that educational costs vary year to year and even day to day.

He said Neptune City currently has 618 students: 180 at Neptune High School, 407 at Woodrow Wilson, 10 in vocational schools, 18 in special education schools, and three in charter schools.

“High school and out-of district tuition costs represent half of the budget, or $4,094,011,” Folk said.

He said the current $8,369,442 budget, which has increased by $1 million in the last three years, maintains academics but does not support extra-curricular activities.

“The Board of Education has little control over 95 percent of the budget. Passing the question is the first step in getting us on the right track,” he said.

He said Neptune City has the second lowest per-pupil cost in the state, at $11,391 whereas the state average is $14,506.

He said this year’s tax levy, or the amount to be raised through local taxation, totals $5,566,358 whereas $5,558,858 is the amount that would be within the state-mandated cap.

“The tax levy is not sufficient to offset appropriations. All non-essential programs would be cut to keep instructional programs going …and none will be reinstated if the question fails. No means no,” he said.

He said beginning a pay-to-play program for sports may be too costly for parents since 50 percent of the district’s enrollment is considered low income.

For example, it would cost parents about $150 per player to continue the soccer program.

Folk said that Neptune City is not the only school district in trouble and that 21 to 23 districts also needed cap waivers for their 2014-2015 budgets.

Mayor Robert Brown said he believes a $175 investment for each household is not too much to pay to keep the extra-curricular programs and sports going.

“It’s a pretty good investment in our children and our community. The school is the cornerstone of Neptune City,” he said.

Other parents said they felt the same way and said they would organize to help the school financially in anyway they can and urge voters to vote yes on the question.

Some residents said that sports and art programs are important tools in allowing students to obtain scholarships in the future and that cutting such programs can have a negative affect on property values.

“We need the support of the community to make this happen. Up to this year we have been able to hold our head above water,” Oppegaard said.

Arnone said that residents need to work to get the question approved and that failure to do so would be “devastating” to the community.

“We need to work together as a community,” he said.

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