School Cuts Loom As Superintendent Search Begins

From left: Board attorney Ben Montenegro, Board President Stephanie Wohlrab, and Superintendent Gerard Dalton during the Board of Education meeting. (Photo by Judy Smestad-Nunn)
From left: Board attorney Ben Montenegro, Board President Stephanie Wohlrab, and Superintendent Gerard Dalton during the Board of Education meeting. (Photo by Judy Smestad-Nunn)

  BRICK – There was no mention of who would be filling in as the interim superintendent during a recent Board of Education meeting since Superintendent Gerard Dalton announced his plan to resign last month, just one year into his four-year contract.

  He is contractually required to stay on for 90 days after his announcement, which would be August 24.

  Meanwhile, during the meeting, the board awarded a contract not to exceed $11,500 to Educational Services Commission of New Jersey to perform a superintendent search.

  During Dalton’s one-year tenure, the school district learned that its state funding would be drastically cut over seven years which would cumulatively result in a $42 million loss.

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  Mandatory property tax increases would help to make up for the shortfall, but since there is a 2 percent cap it would not be enough to stop measures that would include larger class sizes, teacher and staff layoffs and more.

  During public comment at the July meeting, Brick resident and former Republican council candidate Charles Bacon asked about a lawsuit the district has filed against the state over the loss of aid.

  The Brick school district hired Weiner Law Group of Parsippany since they had already been representing other school districts in the state that had lost state aid, said school board attorney Ben Montenegro.

  It minimizes the cost to Brick since all the districts would chip in to pay for the legal representation, he explained after Bacon asked why the school district did not use an Ocean County law firm.

  “I heard a lot of buzz about this when the S-2 [the school funding bill that changed state aid allocations] was passed last July, but I haven’t heard about the status of it,” Bacon said.

  School Business Administrator James Edwards said the state attorney general’s office had filed a motion to dismiss the litigation. Weiner Law Group filed an opposition to that motion so now it’s in a judge’s hands to decide whether or not the case has merit to move forward.

  Bacon asked when the judge would make a decision; Edwards said there is no set time.

  “We’re gonna lose $22 million. What’s the game plan if we lose the lawsuit? A lot of teachers are going to lose their jobs,” Bacon said.

   “It’s gonna impact the education of our children, and our taxes are going to go through the roof. Is there any discussion going on right now?” he asked.

  Board President Stephanie Wohlrab said there is a lot of discussion going on but “I don’t think there’s anything we can point to and share at this time.”

  “So is it confidential, talking about Plan B?” Bacon asked.

  Montenegro said some of the discussion is confidential and could not be discussed in public, such as litigation strategy with the Weiner Law Group or personnel issues.

  “My sense as a citizen of this town, between the Board of Ed, the council and the mayor, is you’re not doing anywhere near what you should be doing,” Bacon said.

  “This is a ‘Norma Rae’ moment with this district,” he said, referencing the movie about getting support to fight the good fight. “This is a criminal thing, taking money away from us. This is all about politics,” Bacon said.

  “We cannot sustain this loss…if you don’t think this is important – I don’t hear it from you, and I don’t hear it from the council and I don’t hear it from the mayor,” said Bacon.

Superintendent Dalton remained quiet until that moment.

  “I have to interject here,” he said. “I know you haven’t been to board meetings recently, but this district has done quite a bit,” Dalton said to Bacon.

The Board of Education began a search for a new superintendent. (Photo by Judy Smestad-Nunn)
The Board of Education began a search for a new superintendent. (Photo by Judy Smestad-Nunn)

  Since the loss of state aid was announced, Dalton said the Brick School District marched on Trenton where he was interviewed outside the state house.

  “We took school buses and we begged community members to join us, and we had no response from our community to come with us for the ‘Norma Rae’ moment,” Dalton said.

  The superintendent said he was very concerned that despite getting the word out that buses were in place at the old Foodtown site for residents to get a ride to the march on Trenton, only one person showed up.

  “So we have done the Norma Rae,” he said to Bacon.

  Dalton and Edwards had two meetings in the governor’s office as “Mr. Edwards educated them on the school funding formula,” the superintendent said.

  “We’ve done petitions, we’ve done letter writing campaigns, we have done these things,” Dalton said. “We have gone to Senator Sweeney’s office, we’ve worked with our local legislators here in town and met with them multiple times.”

  Also, the district has joined the group “Support Our Students” (SOS) that includes 77 NJ school districts, Dalton said.

  He said he has spoken at both the Senate and Assembly budget hearings in Trenton and has met with legislators in the evenings.

  “So we have done things you may not be aware of,” Dalton said to Bacon.

  While fighting the school aid cuts, Dalton said he has also at the same time been running the day-to-day operations of the school district.

  “So I understand your frustration because I share it,” he said. “We waited for hours in Trenton for our few minutes to speak,” Dalton said. “We took it very seriously.”

  Bacon said the bill that cuts spending to Brick was pushed through by Senator Sweeney and Governor Murphy “who don’t care about Ocean County.”

  “They don’t draw any votes from this county,” Bacon said. “This money is getting funneled into other school districts and we’re going to pay a heavy price for this.”

  The next Board of Education meeting will be on Aug. 8 at 7 p.m. at the Professional Development Center located at the Veterans Complex.