School board has limited options

JERSEY SHORE – Other than moving forward with a plan proposed Monday night to save its educational programs from the chopping block, the Jersey Shore Area School Board said it has no other options.

The two-year plan would move fourth- and fifth-grade students to the middle school and eighth-grade students to the high school in the 2013-14 school year. Then, for the 2014-15 school year, all elementary schools would close except for the Jersey Shore Elementary School.

Superintendent Richard Emery told school board members during the administration’s presentation that he believed this was the best option to “maintain, preserve and enhance,” its programs.

Dr. Dorothy Chappel, assistant superintendent, said the administration “whole-heartedly” recommended the plan to the board.

“The choice is we need to do something or start cutting programs,” Emery said Tuesday.

The administration said during Monday’s meeting that, like many school districts, it is experiencing the challenge of increasing costs without an increase in state and federal funding.

After a decrease in health care costs of about $30,000 in the 2008-09 school year, the district has been hit with increases that have totaled $1,100,612 since then. Retirement also has seen a significant increase, according to the presentation, as the district’s rate has jumped nearly 4 percent from 2012 to 2013. The rate will continue to increase from its 12.36 percent, reaching 30.14 percent in 2019.

And although the state’s share also will increase, the district’s total cost for retirement will amount to just under $2.5 million in 2019 – the cost is $887,812 in 2013.

A reduced accountability block grant and an elimination of a state subsidy for charter schools, also have played a role in the district’s current financial situation.

Emery said the district already has made “major” cuts to its operations.

To help combat these rising costs, Emery said the district has eliminated 61 full-time, benefit eligible positions since 2004. The district also cut professional development, reduced field trips and extra-curricular activities, and implemented a “pay to play” program for athletics.

And when looking at current enrollment and future projections, Emery said a one-campus concept is the “best way to use (the district’s) resources.”

“When you look at the building capacity and enrollment, there’s not a need for all six buildings,” he said.

The construction project to Jersey Shore Elementary will increase the building’s capacity by at least 225.

Emery also cited current state Department of Education projections. Starting in next year, the district is expected to lose enrollment.

With lower enrollment and more building capacity, Emery said there no longer is a need for all of its buildings.

The plan also would allow the district to “equalize” its classrooms without moving students to different buildings each year.

The school board is expected to vote on the proposal at its Jan. 28 meeting.

And if it passes, the biggest obstacle for the district is to have the public buy in, Emery said.

“It’s change. It’s different. It’s not what parents are used to and that’s one of the biggest hurdles,” Emery said. “Our goal is to provide as much information to our students (as possible). As I said last night, it’s not as if anyone wants to close any schools. It’s not a fun process and it creates a ton more work.”