Evan Grossman

By: centraljersey.com
MILLSTONE – The Board of Education has begun the process of bolstering programs, staffing and services imperiled by budget cuts after having more than $960,000 restored to school spending by the state.
"We’ve allocated about $150,000," Kevin McGovern, the board president, said last week. "That leaves us with about $800,000."
Earlier this year, Millstone residents defeated a $36 million school budget. In response, the Township Committee recommended $1.26 million in cuts, But the district appealed and got $960,683 of that amount restored by the state.
The district also approved a three-year teachers’ contract providing no salary increases this year, and changes to the health benefits plan, which will save the district about $300,000 a year.
The first order of business, approved at the Sept. 27 meeting, was to reopen three libraries that had been forced to close when the state chopped $1.2 million from the school budget earlier this year. In addition, the board is bringing back one media specialist and two media assistants for those libraries who were previously laid off. Also, school nurses who were forced to reduce their hours by 20 percent are back to full time.
"I think it’s a great sign," Mr. McGovern said. "We have an obligation to our students."
Many of the cuts, he added, were not consistent with that obligation. However, working with a reduced budget has become the "new normal," Mr. McGovern said, in a state where school budgets are being cut across the board.
The responsibility of funneling the $960,683 back into the school system will fall to the board. Mr. McGovern said the board will field recommendations on how to allocate those funds from school administrators.
This may result in more teaching positions opening up (there were 14.7 fewer in the K-8 school district from last year, because of the original cuts), and possible additions made to school transportation services that were cut as well. Mr. McGovern said the board will need to "strike a balance" between financial prudence and putting money back into areas deemed absolutely necessary. Those decisions are expected to continue to be made at the board’s next meeting, scheduled for Oct. 11.
While restoring close to $1 million to the school budget can be seen as a relief for the district, the board knows that with education budgets being slashed across the state, they may not be totally out of the woods yet.
"Do I expect further cuts in the future?" Mr. McGovern said. "I do."