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Cheesequake students will be relocated to four elementary schools next school year in Old Bridge

OLD BRIDGE – Wheels are in motion with the plan to relocate the students of Cheesequake Elementary School next school year, which will officially close at the end of the school year.

In September, some 230 students from kindergarten through fourth grade will now relocate to four elementary schools in the district – Madison Park, McDivitt, Memorial and Shepard.

Schools Superintendent David Cittadino said orientations were held for the students during the school day on June 11 at the schools they would attend next school year.

“They were warmly greeted at each of the different schools,” he said. “The PTAs [Parent Teacher Associations] provided t-shirts for the students.”

In addition, an orientation for parents and guardians was held at the different schools in the evening on June 11.

The grim news of potential cuts as a result of the reduction in state aid has now become reality – Cheesequake Elementary School is closing, which will save the district $750,000 in operation costs, and some 85-plus positions have been cut from the 2019-20 school budget.

The Old Bridge Township School District received state approval at the end of May to close Cheesequake, one of 12 elementary schools. The last day of school is June 21.

“As of right now, [Cheesequake] will not be for an educational use in September,” Cittadino said. “The township recreation will use the school for the summer.”

As for the future, Cittadino said the district will look into selling the property. As for how much revenue the district will receive, he said it depends on the market at the time.

Cheesequake currently 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 are in the process of making sure the four elementary schools will be able to absorb the additional Cheesequake students in future years.

On May 2, 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.

The eliminated positions for next school year 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.

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.

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