I’ve spent a fair bit of time recently on Asbury Park Public Schools at the behest of residents and staff members who have asked me to weigh in on the proposed 2020-2021 budget that the Board will approve on Thursday. People are alarmed: They’re looking at a 22% school tax increase and, judging by reports of last week’s meeting, which I reported on here, Board members seemed fairly clueless about the details.
Why? Because in 2007 the State Legislature appointed a Fiscal Monitor to Asbury Park due to a long history of fiscal mismangement and growing deficits. Back then the New York Times reported that Board President Robert DiSanto was disappointed the district couldn’t manage on its own but “whatever it takes, whatever we need. It is important for a district that has been in decline for more than 30 years.”
Thirteen years later, nothing’s changed. The current fiscal monitor is Carole Morris, 81, who was appointed in 2014. She has a storied past (described here), appears to control matters both fiscal and non-fiscal, and earns an annual salary of $171,000 (as of 2014 — couldn’t find more recent data) plus her annual pension payment of $141,611 from when she worked in the Manasquan district.
Part of Asbury Park’s problem is that if it gets it, it spends it, and New Jersey’s funding formula allocates way too much money to the most over-aided district in the state. Hester Prynne had to wear a scarlet “A” on her bodice for the sin of adultery. Asbury Park earns a scarlet “P” for profligacy, spending $42,000 on each student, employing far more Central Office staff than necessary (twice the state average, according to this recent audit), engaging in excessively sloppy accounting practices, and graduating students ill-equipped to be successful adults. As state legislators try to knock some sense into our bloated school budgets, this year Asbury Park is slated to see a $5 million drop in state aid and residents have to make up the difference.