Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXIII, No. 14
 
Wednesday, April 8, 2009
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The Real Deal: Board Approves 2009 School Budget

Ellen Gilbert

It must have felt like déjà vu all over again for Princeton Regional School Superintendent Judy Wilson last Tuesday evening as she presented the Board of Education’s proposed 2009-2010 budget hard on the heels of doing the same presentation just days earlier for a joint meeting of the Township Committee and Borough Council.

This was the real deal, though: a formal budget hearing after which the board unanimously endorsed the $57,922,997 proposed 2009-2010 operating tax levy, which had been approved just days before by the County. Township and Borough residents will have an opportunity to vote on the budget on School Board Election Day, April 21.

The new budget will result in a sizable, but unavoidable disparity in tax burdens between the two Princetons. Township residents will pay a .65-cent increase, from $1.699 to $1.706 per $100 of the assessed value of their homes. Thus the owner of a home assessed at the Township average of $431,108 will pay $29 more in school taxes in 2009 than in 2008. In the Borough, the budget will result in a 7.69-cent increase from 1.965 to 2.037 per $100 of assessed value, meaning that the owner of a home assessed at the Borough average of $351,761 will pay $269 more in school taxes in 2009. Ms. Wilson emphasized the fact that even if there was a zero increase in this year’s school budget, Borough residents would still see a $213 increase in school taxes for 2009. The uneven tax load between the Borough and the Township is the result of differences in the assessed values of houses, as well as a tax formula which shifts the burden from one municipality to the other every three years.

The proposed budget represents a 1.68 percent increase, or $957,347 over the 2008-2009 total of $56,965,650. As a result of the retirement of a 20-year old $530,000 debt service, the overall budget increase will be .69 percent. The increase is considerably less than the state-allowed maximum of four percent, which, Ms. Wilson has observed on a number of occasions, would be untenable in today’s economic climate. As she has done before during several workshops offered to keep the public apprised of the budget-preparation process, Ms. Wilson emphasized that the Board’s goal was to be sensitive to residents’ economic concerns while maintaining opportunities for student learning. “We are a hair’s breadth away from cutting programs,” she observed on Tuesday evening.

The effort to achieve this year’s budget included “cuts in every department in every school in the district,” according to Ms. Wilson. Twelve staff positions, including two faculty and ten support staff have been eliminated, although two new reading teachers will be added at the Middle School and the High School during the coming year. Other efforts include joining consortia, purchasing in bulk, and attempting to stabilize utility bills. Ms. Wilson noted that the district would be paying $250,000 for support staff pensions, despite Governor Corzine’s okay for districts to waive this obligation during the coming year.

In addition to voting on the budget on April 21, Township voters will have the opportunity to re-elect Board member Mia Cahill, who is running unopposed for the only Township seat available in this election, while Borough residents will choose among incumbent Rebecca Cox, Dudley Sipprelle, and Charles Kalmbach for the two vacant Borough seats this year.

Last Tuesday’s meeting also saw the Board bid farewell to member Joshua Leinsdorf, a Borough representative who served on a number of committees during his nine-year tenure. Board members reminisced about Mr. Leinsdorf’s style of engagement and willingness to “buck conventional wisdom.”

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