Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXV, No. 15
Wednesday, April 13, 2011
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School Budget: No Major Cuts, No Growth

Dilshanie Perera

With a budget vote and School Board elections to take place on Wednesday, April 27, Superintendent of Schools Judy Wilson came to last week’s Borough meeting to update Council on the fiscal state of the Princeton Regional School District (PRSD).

Weighing in at approximately $73.8 million, the budget for the upcoming school year “does not contain any major cuts or layoffs like last year,” Ms. Wilson acknowledged, while also noting that “it does not contain any growth” in terms of programs.

About $62.19 million of the operating budget will be supported by taxes to the municipalities, which results in an average estimated increase in taxes in the Borough of $97.69 and in the Township of $102.92.

Characterizing the upcoming year as a necessarily “stabilizing” one for the district, Ms. Wilson said that the current 2010-2011 school year saw a reduction of $3.7 million in state aid to Princeton Regional Schools. “Fourteen faculty positions, and dozens of staff” were eliminated, as well as other school programs.

“We are operating this year with $3 million of loss over last year,” Ms. Wilson reported, adding that in putting together the 2011-2012 budget, the district is “down in almost every category of spending.”

As of February of this year, Ms. Wilson said that there was still a $1.3 million gap in the school budget for 2011-2012, but that Governor Chris Christie announced that 20 percent of state aid cut last year would be reinstated. Thus, PRSD will be receiving $741,409 more from the state than last year, but will “be many, many years before we’re back to the 2009-2010 levels.”

Major cost drivers include energy and healthcare, according to Ms. Wilson, who called the cost of charter schools perhaps the greatest driver. In the upcoming year, the district will pay $4.7 million to support Princeton Charter School, and an additional $256,749 mandatory set-aside for the Princeton International Academy Charter School.

Savings have been achieved in special education and transportation costs. “We’re bringing more and more students from out of district, and placing them back into our classrooms,” Ms. Wilson said of Princeton students who were formerly bused to special education programs outside of the district. The move has resulted in “better quality” programming for the students and “significant costs savings” as well.

The 2011-2012 budget accounts for three new faculty positions at the high school, “the only place in the district where we have overcrowding,” in order to address large class sizes in social studies and mathematics.

Nonetheless, school programming and administrative budgets are flat, with the increases stemming from the cost drivers listed above. State-mandated budget caps going from four percent last year to two percent this year also affect the district’s budgeting numbers and process.

Ms. Wilson pointed out overdue capital projects that have been wait-listed this year, and a “deep need for greater tools for teachers and pupils in terms of technology.” The district is also determining outside sources of funding for specific programs and resources.

All three candidates for the School Board elections are running uncontested, and the vote on April 27, will also contain the budget question on the ballot. Incumbent Tim Quinn from the Borough and Township representatives Dan Haughton and Afsheen Shamsi will be listed. Polls are open from noon to 9 p.m.

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