School board: Sports programs won’t be cut

Expected retirement,
cutting chaperones
save district $27,458

Staff Writer

School board: Sports
programs won’t be cut
Expected retirement,
cutting chaperones
save district $27,458
Staff Writer

Sports teams at Old Bridge’s two middle schools will remain intact under a proposed $114.5 million budget for the 2004-05 school year, officials confirmed.

Contrary to rumors that have inexplicably surfaced in recent months, the Board of Education will not cut the athletic programs at the Carl Sandburg or Jonas Salk middle schools in the coming academic year, nor was such a plan ever considered, according to board member Frank Piccillo.

"We never had any intention of [cutting middle school sports]," Piccillo said on Monday. "It was never discussed. It never entered the mind of any board member to cut athletics."

With the April 20 board elections and a budget bearing a 9-cent school tax rate increase on the line, Piccillo and other board members are eager to put the rumors to rest.

How and why such rumors began circulating through the district is anyone’s guess, he said.

"That rumor just started. We don’t even know how it started," he said.

After months of fielding telephone calls from parents of middle school students questioning the validity of the rumors, Piccillo pressed to set the record straight. Other board members have received similar calls from district parents, he added.

The budget, adopted by an 8-0 board vote with one abstention at its March 30 meeting, retains all of the district’s academic, athletic and extracurricular programs, Piccillo said.

Despite the abstention vote by board member Albert DiRocco Jr., all nine elected members are on the same page with one goal in mind — getting the budget passed in the April 20 school election, Piccillo said.

"We’re all supporting this budget. We’re all united and we want to see it pass for the sake of the kids," he said.

DiRocco said that an initial misunderstanding over exactly how much of a financial hit the district’s athletics budget would take prompted him to abstain during the hearing. However, since then, Piccillo and other board members have convinced DiRocco that the district’s various sports teams will not suffer from the agreed-upon $27,458 reduction.

That figure represents a cut of just over 3 percent from $909,157 in the 2003-04 school year to $881,699 in the coming year, according to district documents dated March 30.

"This is a fair cut, considering what was originally going to be cut," DiRocco said.

Under the impression that his colleagues wanted to cut the athletics budget by $138,750, DiRocco objected during the public hearing.

Reducing athletic funding by that amount would have marked the end of the middle school sports program, as well as some coaching positions at Old Bridge High School, DiRocco said.

Actually, the expected retirement of an athletic department supervisor and the elimination of several paid adult chaperones for some sports teams together provided the board with room to decrease the athletics instruction cost center by $27,458, Piccillo explained.

No school sports teams were omitted and the items that were cut were recommended by some of the coaches, he said.

"The coaches themselves came to us and told us where we could save money," Piccillo said.

Now, DiRocco believes that the cuts are reasonable given all of the other cost centers that were considered by the board for reductions.

"I know we have to keep a happy medium," DiRocco said, noting that his priority now is ensuring the budget’s passage.

"I’m supporting the budget. It’s got a lot of good things in it," DiRocco said.

District documents also show proposed reductions in several cost centers, including out-of-district tuition, educational media services, plant operations and food services.

Board members worked tirelessly for "many, many hours" reviewing all of the district’s cost centers to come up with a budget palatable to taxpayers, Piccillo said.

"We worked very closely with central administration because, as board members, we represent all of the residents," Piccillo said. "We want to save the residents of Old Bridge tax dollars."

The district also needs to be sensitive to the needs of senior citizens living on fixed incomes, DiRocco said. The board, while wanting a budget that meets the needs of a constantly increasing enrollment, does not want to tax seniors out of their homes.

"I feel badly for [seniors]," said DiRocco, a retired township police detective." It’s a difficult situation for them."

Federal and state funding for Old Bridge and other suburban school districts has not been as generous in recent years, with more money going to urban districts, DiRocco said.

"The state and federal governments have to give us our fair share of school funding," DiRocco said. "The inner cities get a lot of funding. We don’t get half as much of the state aid as we should."

Athletics as a whole are an important part of a child’s education and help prepare one for the workplace and adult life, said DiRocco, who is known by his colleagues as an advocate for the district’s sports programs.

Any elimination of such programs could adversely affect students and rob them of a well-rounded education, he stressed.

"My ultimate goal is to see that every child who graduates from Old Bridge High School becomes a contributor to society, not a detriment," DiRocco said.

Altogether, the board is asking property owners for an additional $129 to fund the operating expenses in the district’s 15 school buildings.

If approved by voters, the local school tax rate would rise 9 cents from $2.166 to $2.255 per $100 of assessed valuation.

As a result, school taxes would increase from $3,119 to $3,247 for the owner of a home assessed at the township average of $144,000.

The adopted budget includes a general fund of $108.3 million and calls for $70,992,282 to be raised by property taxes, according to district officials.

The 9-cent school tax increase consists of 5 cents for the general fund and 4 cents to help pay off the $2.98 million debt service on a $66 million building referendum approved by voters in September 2001.

The adopted budget also includes funding to hire four teachers at Old Bridge High School, two substance awareness coordinators for the middle schools, two registered nurses and a music teacher for the elementary schools, and five guidance counselors for the elementary schools, district officials have said.