Neptune City voters are being asked to approve a $360,000 referendum in the Nov. 4 general election to restore some teaching positions and extra-curricular activities at the Woodrow Wilson Elementary School- an amount that will add about $175 to the average school tax bill.
About 50 people turned out for an informational meeting held by the Board of Education at the school Tuesday night, of which about 20 were local educational association members showing their support for the referendum.
School Board President Christine Oppegaard said the Wilson School is in a “crisis situation” and that the board is down “to a bare bones budget.”
“Our goal is to keep the Woodrow Wilson school operating in the same way it has always been operating…and we need your support. If the referendum passes, we can put (the employees and programs) back in place. It’s as simple as that,” she said.
Approval of the referendum will allow the school district to go beyond its regular budget and raise $360,000 to fund added in-school and extracurricular activities.
The school board cannot just indiscriminately pass on additional costs for budget items onto taxpayers because there is a state-imposed, two-percent cap on most spending increases.
The in-school programs would include restoring teaching positions in Spanish, art, music, basic skills and English-as-a-second-language to full-time status. It also would include buying computers and related hardware in preparation for PARCC (Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers) testing, or “Common Core” standard testing, beginning this school year.
The extracurricular activities include field trips, athletics (soccer, basketball, baseball, softball and cheerleading) and other areas such as arts and crafts club, creative writing, school newsletter, yearbook, band, Honor Society and academic team.
“If the referendum passes, we intend to reinstate these activities immediately,” Oppegaard said.
She said there is some money available to cover the cost for some sport activities until Jan.1, when the referendum money would become available.
“If it fails, money cannot be put back in, even if someone wants to give us a million dollars, because it has gone to the voters,” she said.
Oppegaard said the board will probably face similar financial issues in an “uncertain” future.
She said tuition costs for students, particularly special education and high school students, can change dramatically from year to year. The district had a 64 percent increase in these types of students over the last four years.
“It happens and it happens a lot. We’ve been hit hard with tuitions,” she said.
Oppegaard called the future of the school “unchartered territory.”
“If we cannot adequately fund education and can’t make our budget, I don’t know…but we will try to keep going,” she said.
Resident John Gunderson said he was originally against the referendum but that he changed his mind after doing his own personal research.
“If we want this school to continue then we have to do what we have to do to keep it, and we can’t expect much help from the state,” he said.
He said Neptune City is one of 32 other New Jersey schools that are underfunded through state aid.
Gunderson said the state readily gives money to Abbott school districts “but leaves the others out to dry.”
Resident Jerry Cupples said that residents need to go out and promote passage of the referendum.
“People don’t know and we need to sell it. And the main thing is that it’s not the kids fault- and that’s who’s getting kicked around here,” he said.
Cupples said that school taxes may go up by $175 but a failing school district only drives property values down.
“I spent that much money on a bike for my kid,” he said.
Resident Gordon Cousins said he agrees.
“If the school goes down so does the town. If you care about the survivability of this town then you need to vote for this. Without this school it will erode the very foundation of this town. It will erode little, by little, by little and we need to keep the school open,” he said.
The referendum will add about $175 to the average school tax bill. The current school tax rate is $1.29 for each $100 of assessed valuation, with the average home in Neptune City assessed at around $210,000
Polls are open 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Election Day.