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Cheesequake Elemetary School expected to close; 85-plus positions will be cut in district

OLD BRIDGE – The grim news of potential cuts as a result of the reduction in state aid has now become reality – Cheesequake Elementary School may be closing in Old Bridge and some 85-plus positions have been cut from the 2019-20 school budget.

The Board of Education adopted the $150.72 million operating budget, a decrease of $3.72 million, or 2.4%, from the 2018-19 budget, at a meeting on May 2.

“For a district facing devastating state aid cuts, the process to reconcile what programs and positions will be impacted by reductions is not an easy process,” Schools Superintendent David Cittadino said. “As a unified team, the board and administration review the district educational priorities found in the community-driven mission statement. Those priorities shape the difficult decisions to be made. The board then brings their intentions to the public.”

Cittadino said “at the end of the day, providing safe and experience-rich learning environments for our students is always our priority.

“Even with drastic state aid cuts, this budget allows us to maintain programs that keep our students safe and allows for robust learning experiences that extend far beyond the classroom walls,” he said. “However, in these financially unpleasant times, certain services become a luxury we can no longer afford.”

The local tax levy increased $2 million, or 2%, from $100.9 million in the 2018-19 school budget to $102.9 million in the 2019-20 budget.

The average homeowner will pay a $126.33 increase per year for the average home assessed at $152,500, or $10.52 additional per month.

The eliminated positions include two central level administrators; one building level administrator; more than 27 supervisors, 10 secretaries, 10 paraprofessionals, coaching positions and certified staff; and a reduction of positions from 10 to 12 months in secretarial and supervisory areas.

The budget no longer supports late transportation runs at the high school and middle schools, except for the 4 p.m. run two days a week for academic programs at the middle school; the budget removes Spanish as a world language in the sixth- and seventh-grade levels, but will remain an option for grades 8-12; and the budget removes family consumer science – cooking and sewing – offered at the middle school.

Summer school for middle school students will be offered as a free online program with office hours for students or parents will be provided with tuition options; and the budget reduces instructional supplies by $500,000.

In response to the anticipated cut in state aid, schools officials had been discussing closing and consolidating Cheesequake Elementary School, one of the 12 elementary schools in the Old Bridge Township Public School District, and selling an easement near the Nike Base, off Route 9 south, where it currently houses its buses.

The state must approve the plan to close the school. If so, plans will be made on how to redistrict the students, and in what timeframe.

Cheesequake has about 280 students and 25 educators, which includes 13 classroom teachers, four response to intervention (RTI) teachers, two special education teachers, a guidance counselor, principal and educators who teach special classes such as art.

School officials had also discussed outsourcing paraprofessional services, but were able to work together and keep the paraprofessionals in house.

According to Gov. Phil Murphy’s revamp of the School Funding Formula, which was approved by the New Jersey Senate and the House of Representatives on July 21, 2018, Old Bridge Township Public Schools will receive an approximate $12 million reduction in state aid over the next seven years, from approximately $45 million to $33 million.

“Based on the [amended] formula, [the state says] we are overfunded,” Cittadino has said, noting the district does not apply for state aid. “[The reduction] came without warning and did not provide us the time to put a strategic plan in place. [The handling of the reduction has been] irresponsible and it is detrimental to our students.”

The district is receiving $42,209,527 in state aid for the 2019-20 school year, a $3 million or 6.67% decrease in state aid from last year.

Since 2008, enrollment in Old Bridge schools has decreased about 1,000 students. The school district has just under 9,000 students, 1,388 employees and 17 educational facilities.

School officials said they had been using state aid to cover recurring expenses including salary costs, collective bargaining contracts, a custodial contract, and health and medical benefits in the district’s $150 million budget.

As Cittadino does every year, he highlights the accomplishments in the current school year during the presentation.

During 2018-19, 11 Promising Practice National Recognitions were awarded to Old Bridge Schools with 100% local business sponsorship and three elementary schools were recertified as State Schools of Character.

The Old Bridge High School Marching Knights were selected to perform at the World War II commemoration at Pearl Harbor; they were awarded best ensemble performance and were named first place state champions.

For the first time in school history, the high school boys basketball team was named Red Division Champs.

And World Language Junior Honor Societies for French, German, Italian, Spanish were formed in the middle schools.

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