Officials make case for April’s ‘hard sell’


Staff Writer

SAYREVILLE — School officials continued to promote a 2005-06 school budget this week, telling the Borough Council about the need to support the package and an April referendum.

The borough faces two major school-related decisions April 19, as voters will have their say on both the $66.4 million budget for the next school year and a $47 million referendum for additions at Sayreville War Memorial High School.

School officials have been giving a combined presentation on the two issues in recent weeks.

Assistant Superintendent of Schools Carla Sutherland said a state analysis of the high school indicates the facility is built to adequately house 1,048 students, while its current enrollment is 1,654, with more students expected.

“We’re experiencing about a 100-student increase per year,” she told the Borough Council and others in attendance at Monday’s meeting.

During a seven-minute video presentation, school Business Administrator Emidio D’Andrea spoke of the proposed referendum, which asks voters to OK additions to the high school that will cost the owner of property valued at $141,300 a total of $152 per year for the next 25 years, a figure that produced a slight murmur among members of the audience.

“We can no longer have a school that does not address our kids’ needs,” Sutherland said, noting that with exception to two science labs at the high school, none of the labs have been updated since the school was built in the early 1960s.

The facility would not be used simply by high school students, but also by the community as a whole, she added.

The proposed 2005-06 school budget carries a 9-cent increase in the school tax rate, which would increase taxes for the $141,300 home by $133.

The district is expected to receive $13.9 million in state aid toward the referendum, reducing the actual cost to local taxpayers to about $33 million. School board members reiterated at Monday’s council meeting that with the state’s own budgetary uncertainties, aid may not be available again, should the referendum fail.

“If the voters say ‘no’, that $13.9 million goes back into the state budget and another district [can get it],” Sutherland said. “I don’t know if the money will be there [for a future referendum].”

Mayor Kennedy O’Brien commended the school officials for making the budget process more accessible to the public.

“I really commend you on making it a transparent process,” he said. “It’s one of the largest parts of the tax bill, but it’s also one of the most important.”

Interim Superintendent of Schools Frank Alfano said the board has worked hard to keep the budget as low as possible.

“We’ve been very diligent in using a lot of surplus,” he said. “We’re doing everything we possibly can to put out a legitimate budget. We’re doing the best we can.”

Councilman Thomas Pollando asked Alfano whether he believed asking residents to vote on both the referendum and the school tax increase at the same time would hurt the board’s chances of gaining approval for either.

“It’s a hard sell,” Alfano said. “Hopefully, we won’t have to go out again for a referendum.”