Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXII, No. 14
 
Wednesday, April 2, 2008
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Towns Examine ’08 PRS Budget

Matthew Hersh

The Princeton Regional School district’s proposed $57 million tax levy for the 2008-2009 academic year fell under the municipal magnifying glass Monday night as the Princeton Borough and Princeton Township governing bodies examined the schools’ budget that proposes a 3.32 percent increase, slated for an April 15 vote.

Still feeling the effects of the public defeat of the PRS budget in 2007, Superintendent Judith Wilson sought to receive informal approval from the two governments, as both Borough Council and Township Committee are grappling with putting forth budgets that fall under the state-mandated four-percent cap on the tax levy.

Organized as an information session, the hearing focused on the tax levy disparity between the Borough and Township. That levy, based on property value, will translate into an increase of $332 per year for the average Borough homeowner with a property valued at $349,000, or an increase of nine cents to $1.965 for every $100 of assessed property value, and a $45 decrease per year for the average Township homeowner, with a property valued at $431,000 —a one-cent decrease to $1.6997 for every $100 of assessed property value.

Those figures, Ms. Wilson said, do not reflect the school levy or how the budget is constructed. The levies are based on a formula that factors housing sales in the Borough and Township between October 2006 and October 2007. Houses sold in the Borough during that time span held more closely than they did in the Township, Ms. Wilson said. The formula is also based on municipal rateables, she added.

The proposed $56,965,650 tax levy is added to other fund balances, tuition expenses, state aid, and charter school aid, resulting in a $72.5 million operating budget for the upcoming school year.

Ms. Wilson, in crafting the budget, said the Board of Education’s goals included maintaining academic levels, offsetting increases in state-mandated expenses with efficiencies and reductions, lowering class size in core academic courses at Princeton High School, and reducing costs of Pre-K education.

A reduction in some support staff positions toward the addition of what would count as 2.4 faculty positions is also proposed.

To anticipate the state’s mandate for all New Jersey school districts to provide Pre-K services for 3- and 4-year-olds with economic needs starting in the 2009-2010 academic year, the existing Pre-K program will be reconfigured, Ms. Wilson said. Currently, PRS offers Pre-K to 4-year-olds only. Those future costs will be offset by charging tuition: $6,000 per year for half-day, and $12,000 per year for full-day services.

Ms. Wilson specifically credited the Princeton Education Foundation, which raised over $300,000 for the schools in the last 18 months, as well as a planned $100,000 donation from the Institute for Advanced Study.

Members of Borough Council and Township Committee were largely receptive to the proposed budget. Councilman Andrew Koontz urged the district to find alternate sources of funding in future years, while Councilwoman Barbara Trelstad suggested increased energy savings.

Ms. Wilson pointed to the current energy audit of all Princeton school and government buildings, saying that six school’s HVAC systems have been updated, and that energy conservation had been an aim of the district: “Shut it down, turn it off,” she said, adding that computer controls for shutting systems down should be employed.

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The Princeton Regional Schools budget will be up for vote Tuesday, April 15. Go to wwww.prs.k12.nj.us for more information.

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