Council cautioned not to make rash decision

Student tells council steep cuts in school tab will have an impact


Staff Writer

EAST BRUNSWICK — Realizing a school budget cut may be inevitable, supporters are urging the Township Council to keep it small.

The Township Council on Monday heard from a number of people, including parents and teachers, who said the school district needs all the money it can get in order to maintain its programs and quality of education. One resident argued that people who say the district spends too much money do not understand modern educational needs and factors affecting the school budget.

The council also got an earful from a township student, albeit someone who will not be affected by a budget cut because he is a senior. Eric Walker, the student liaison to the Board of Education, told the council it needs to hear the students’ case against trimming the budget, which would raise the school tax rate by 28 cents per $100 of assessed valuation. He said the council should recognize that the district wants to move to a nine-period day at the high school and has a greatly increased enrollment at Hammarskjold Middle School.

He also said the federal No Child Left Behind (NCLB) act requires that the district hire additional basic skills teachers. If the district does not meet NCLB requirements, it could lose federal funding, he said.

Walker is not the first student to address the council about the budget, as a younger child spoke to the council last week about school needs.

And he is not the first to warn the council of dire consequences should significant cuts be made to the defeated school budget. In 2003, before the council cut that year’s defeated budget, supporters also said the cuts would have dramatic results for students.

Only a few residents spoke out against the $115.9 million 2005-06 budget, which council President David Stahl has said will be cut.

The questions remains, though, how much will be cut and in what areas. The council has scheduled a meeting for May 19 to take action on the matter.

Walker noted how the district brought its budget under the state spending cap, and one parent told council members not to believe that cuts won’t affect students.

“Any cuts that you decide on will impact our students,” said Susan Palmer.

She asked that the council pay as much attention to school supporters as it gives to people who do not support the school budget.

Walker stated that every expense proposed in the budget is necessary.

He also noted that the low voter turnout — less than 11 percent of registered voters — in the April 19 school election did not represent a mandate, but noted that he understood council members had an obligation to the people who voted against the increase.

Sophia Brydbord, a township parent, said the council needs to take a look at modern education concerns before it makes any decision. She said students do not have a minute to themselves and teachers are stretched to the max.

She said the circumstances make education vastly different than it was even 20 years ago. Some residents had complained at previous meetings that they went to school years ago in classes with over 30 students.

Brydbord said teachers need to give one-on-one instruction because students are at different reading levels, for instance. However, in a class with 30 students, the individual attention is virtually impossible.