Referendum An Option For Schools

Board of Education members, school officials, and the public discussed the district’s financial issues. (Photo by Judy Smestad-Nunn)

  BRICK – The Board of Education approved a $25,000 expenditure for pre-referendum services by Netta Architects if the district decides to go ahead with a spending question to be put up for a public vote.

  Board of Education President Stephanie Wohlrab has repeatedly stated that nothing is off the table while addressing a $22 million cut in state aid over seven years that has resulted in staff and program cuts and the closure of Herbertsville Elementary School.

  “This referendum – we have not decided, we have not seen it, we have just talked about possible things,” Wohlrab said. “Nothing will be done until we get a committee together.”

  The vote to hire Netta for pre-referendum services is in case the district decides to move forward with a referendum; Wohlrab stressed that no decision has been made.

Board of Education members, school officials, and the public discussed the district’s financial issues. (Photo by Judy Smestad-Nunn)

  “We are waiting on a couple of different pieces, like the ESIP (Energy Saving Improvement Program) – what’s going to be included in there, so this isn’t 100 percent yet, but this gives us the ability to decide after we reconvene the committee, and after we have some discussions,” Wohlrab said. “We need to look at everything…and this may or may not be a piece of that.”

  The Board has not decided what would be in the referendum, Wohlrab said. “It just gives us options,” she said.

  Netta was hired by the district for a previous referendum in 2018 when residents were asked to vote on $12.5 million for security enhancements to the schools. That referendum failed by just 39 votes.

  The idea of a new referendum in Brick comes on the heels of a veto by Governor Phil Murphy of a bill proposed by NJ Senate President Steve Sweeney that would have allowed the school districts affected by the loss in state aid to waive the state’s current two percent cap on property taxes. The bill would have allowed taxes to be raised to the amount of the reduction in state aid.

  “Before middle-class property taxpayers have to again take it on the chin, we should be asking our wealthiest residents to pay their fair share through a millionaire’s tax,” said Governor Murphy when he announced the veto.

  Wohlrab said that for Brick, there is no simple solution to the compounded loss over seven years that would total some $93 million in lost state aid.

Acting Superintendent Sean Cranston discusses aid cuts. (Photo by Judy Smestad-Nunn)

  “There’s no one answer here. We just have to keep working together, keep communicating, answer the questions we can, find out the answers to those that we can’t, and just keep participating and talking,” said Wohlrab.

  Business Administrator James Edwards said one of the revenue strategies include hiring a firm for grant writing services.

  The NJ Department of Education has released its 2020-2021 budget calendar and so the district has established all its dates for program manager meetings so the administration can review the budget requests, Edwards said.

Edwards Business Administrator James Edwards talks about future budget meetings. (Photo by Judy Smestad-Nunn)

  There will be a budget overview during the February 13 Board of Education meeting, a tentative budget hearing during the March 19 Board of Education meeting, and there will be a public budget hearing on April 30.

  Wohlrab said she would like each Board member to bring one revenue idea to the next meeting, which will be on February 13 at Brick Memorial High School.