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Proposed EF budget cuts come under fire

| Thursday, June 17, 2010

Concern is running high in the Elizabeth Forward Area School District, where program and personnel cuts loom due to budgetary constraints.

Parents, teachers, students and other district stakeholders turned out by the score for a school board workshop meeting Wednesday in which the district's 2010-11 budget was discussed.

Foreign language instruction at the middle school, special education, athletic programs and positions in technology department are some of the items on the chopping block.

The district approved a $37.8 million preliminary budget in March that contained a funding shortfall of about $2 million. It hopes to approve final version of its spending plan next week. School officials said there are still aspects of the budget being worked out and additional changes could be made.

A lack of specifics on which programs would see changes frustrated those in attendance who wanted hard answers.

"Do we have a plan today• No," board president Margaret Morgan admitted when pressed for answers about one of the proposed changes.

Resident Allene McCall called district superintendent Bart Rocco on one of the phrases he and other district officials used a lot at the meeting "We are looking at restructuring."

"Define 'restructuring' please," asked McCall, who was upset that foreign languages might be eliminated at the middle school.

Again, there was no definitive answer, though Rocco said the option of cutting the language classes was being looked at with core curriculum classes taking their place.

Many are upset that the district is looking at combining its seventh- and eighth-grade athletic programs, eliminating elementary basketball coordinators and nixing the indoor boys and girls track program.

John Walsh, who owns E-Town Pizza in Elizabeth, said his shop has donated thousands of dollars to school athletic programs over the years. He said the district should find money in its coffers to keep the track program alive.

"All we're talking is $3,500," Walsh said.

District employee Denise Napoli said she's upset that two technology positions might be cut.

"Who's going to do the work to maintain these computers?" she asked.

The district also is looking at cutting a special education teacher and half-time business education teacher at the high school, a speech teacher, its public relations director, three response-to-intervention positions and eight instructional aides.

The school board is considering putting $500,000 from its fund balance toward the budget.

School officials hope to avoid a tax increase and noted that even if Elizabeth Forward does raise taxes, the .96 mills it is permitted by law, the extra revenue would only be about $600,000.

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