BRICK – After months of rumors and speculation, it was confirmed during the December 12 Board of Education meeting that Herbertsville Elementary School is closing. This is part of what is likely to be many big cuts to the Brick School District after it was announced that some $22 million in state aid would be cut over a period of seven years.
Parents lined up to speak during public comment at the meeting after it was announced the school would be re-purposed as a preschool by using a $4.2 million state grant.
Dozens of parents pleaded with and questioned the administration during a meeting that lasted over five hours. Some read prepared statements while others tearfully held up photos of their children.
Some parents said they specifically moved to the northeast area of Brick just for that school. Others said that if Herbertsville Elementary School closes they would be selling their homes and moving.
Board President Stephanie Wohlrab said the district was left with no choice.
“We are facing really, really dire straits here with what we have going on in the next three years,” she said.
“This [meeting] should be packed. The doors should be open and we should have speakers out [in the hallways], because every parent and grandparent should be up in arms about this,” she said.
The direct cost of running Herbertsville Elementary School, including teachers and administration, is $1.8 million a year, said School Business Administrator James Edwards.
The township applied for a $4.2 million preschool grant which would cover the cost of the administration, supplies, materials, transportation, and a percentage of the cost of the teachers, explained Director of Special Services Kristen Hanson.
The other percentage would be paid by special education funds because the classrooms would be blended between special needs and general education preschoolers, she said.
The grant comes with a list of requirements, including the square footage of classrooms, the number of students allowed in each class, transportation with a mandate for special bus seats, and much more, Hanson said.
Herbertsville School was chosen over other schools as the site for the preschool because of the size of the classrooms and other factors.
Children currently attending Herbertsville Elementary would be redistricted to where it makes the most sense for them geographically, said Acting Superintendent of Schools Sean Cranston, although other considerations would be factored into the transition plan.
Each child would have a meet and greet with the new principal and teachers and would have a walk-through at their new school, he said.
“Children are resilient,” Cranston said. “Once they get comfortable in their [new] school, the plan is for them to continue in that elementary school.”
Director of Planning, Research and Evaluation Susan McNamara said that repurposing Herbertsville School means that at least the building will stay open and servicing the children of Brick instead of it staying idle.
Some of the other cost-saving measures being considered are staff reductions, pay-to-play sports, the elimination of extracurricular activities such as band, the downsizing of AP classes and more. Nothing is off the table, Wohlrab said, including the probability of closing another school.
Class sizes of 30 to 32 will be the norm in the district.
Parent Sandy Cristos asked if the state could come up the $4.2 million to fund a preschool program, “why can’t they come up with the money to keep [Herbertsville School] going?”
Hanson said the state has allocated over $100 million to be used specifically for preschool programs. “But that’s a very good question,” she added.
Christos asked if board members could hold assemblies at each school to let parents know about the budget cuts. Other parents said the closure of Herbertsville School caught them off guard and said that the Board of Education has not been transparent.
Wohlrab said the administration and superintendent has attended PTA meetings, and letters have been posted to the school website.
In March, the district had a well-advertised bus trip to a march on Trenton, which was attended by teachers, board members, administrators, and Mayor John G. Ducey, but only one parent attended, Wohlrab said.
Four reporters attend the Board of Education meetings every month and they have written dozens of stories about the cuts, so the funding problem has been well documented, Wohlrab added.
“I say this with all due respect: people pay attention when it directly affects their child,” Wohlrab said. “This did not happen yesterday; we have been talking about this since I’ve been a board member.”
Edwards said that after the township lost some $600 million in ratables following Superstorm Sandy, the township did not raise taxes since so many residents were trying to recover. The township has not recovered and is still down $300 million, he said.
“People outside this area don’t get it, and they don’t care,” he said.
“Good schools equal good communities,” Edwards said, “and as kids are jammed into classrooms, and the schools begin to suffer because of it, so does the community.”
When the community suffers, the businesses that are in that community suffer, home values suffer, and there is historical data that shows what happens to communities when the schools aren’t taken care of, he said.
“It’s a shame that Trenton has deemed that needs to happen here,” Edwards said.