The Brick school district has not received any type of offers, letters of interest or calls with regard to Herbertsville Elementary School, district business administrator James Edwards told Shorebeat on Wednesday.
Over the last several weeks, “Save Our School” signs have proliferated in the township’s Herbertsville section, with rumors flying about how the district is receiving offers on the property or readying it for lease. All are, simply put, just rumors, Edwards said. But that doesn’t mean the future of Herbertsville, or any school in the district, is set in stone.
“As I have stated at the recent meetings, the way we do things today is going to need to change unless we are able to solve our revenue problem,” he said.
At a recent meeting of the Board of Education, a group of Herbertsville residents and parents of children who attend the school called on the district to be transparent if the fiscal crisis becomes bad enough where a building will have to close or be repurposed.
“We don’t have a decision, but when we do, we are going to be totally transparent,” said Acting Superintendent Sean Cranston, who added the district is looking at “several options.”
“We just started school, budget season starts really soon, and we’re going to have to have an answer pretty soon,” he told the group. “There are a lot of options on the table.”
Brick is in the third year of a seven-year state funding cut that will eventually leave a $23 million shortfall in the budget – every year. Some of that will be made up by mandatory, state-imposed property tax increases to the maximum amount allowed by law – 2 percent – for the same seven year period. But even with the tax hikes, the gap between the state funding that was lost and a balanced budget will not have been closed. That is leading the district to consider a wide range of unpalatable options, from closing or repurposing schools, to instituting “pay-to-play” sports, to increasing class sizes to 30 students or more.
“We have had folks at our recent meetings who seem to understand the dilemma and are showing their willingness to assist, however, because of the magnitude of the loss we will need more than just a small solution,” said Edwards.
School district officials also worry that if a school does have to be closed, the situation could turn into a neighborhood-versus-neighborhood battle. Herbertsville parents learned about the potential for school closures before anyone else since its PTA raised $30,000 to install a new playground. The district cautioned that the school’s status was in question – but officials insist that had parents of any school in the district proposed spending such funds, they would have received the same warning. The playground, in the end, was installed and could be moved if the school closes.
The funding issue is one that is district-wide, with officials urging the community to become involved from all sides.
“I appreciate that you’re looking at it as ‘us’ as a district, because it’s going to affect all the other elementary schools,” said Board of Education President Stephanie Wohlrab.