Schools Budget: West Belmar Stays Open; Janitors Cut

District approves its preliminary budget with school intact but axes custodial services

The Board of Education on Tuesday voted to introduce its $65 million preliminary budget, which calls for keeping open but outsources custodial services.

The board's 8-1 vote came after hours discussing a month-long study by Middletown-based T & M Associates concerning the possible closure of West Belmar school.

Board member Laurie Cannon cast the lone vote against introducing the budget, saying she wasn't comfortable with the discussions leading up to the introduction.

The $65,308,467  tentative budget for the 2011-12 school year is supported by a $56,750,239 tax levy, according to the resolution supporting the proposed spending plan.

That plan includes keeping all teachers, school programs and West Belmar School, but calls for cutting janitorial services and some administrative positions, according to schools Superintendent James Habel.


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The tax rate increase is 4.9 cents for each $100 of property value more than last year's budget, Habel said.

The tax rate for last year was not immediately available. The district's budget presentation is scheduled for March 29.

Habel stressed that the budget is not final. 

"This budget can be changed at any time up to and including the public presentation on March 29,'' Habel said. "This budget can be changed.''

The budget presentation followed an hours long presentation and discussion of the feasibility study T & M conducted during February concerning the closure of West Belmar school -- a move board members and administration have said could save more than $1 million annually but has been vehemently opposed by a vocal group of district parents.

T & M concluded that, under two scenarios the group mapped out, students of West Belmar could be absorbed into the remaining three elementary schools.

One possibility included absorbing West Belmar students into Old Mill and Central School. The other included moving West Belmar students as a whole into Old Mill School and moving some Old Mill students to Allenwood.

Under both scenarios, according to the presentation, all class sizes increase at all three schools, up to as many as 30 pupils in one Allenwood School classroom under scenario two of T&M's analysis.

But later, Habel said the board's Finance & Facilities committee found that outsourcing custodial services would save close $1 million - more than the committee had originally thought. Because of that, Habel said, the closure of West Belmar was set aside.

But Tom Coyle, spokesman for the Save Wall Schools group, said the fate of West Belmar School is really in the hands of voters.

"The proposed budget and the tentative plan to keep West Belmar open hinges on the passage of that budget, correct?'' Coyle asked agreeing board members. "So it is in the hands of the public.''


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