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Voters Approve School Budget, Second Question

Candace Braun

Princeton Regional Schools' $67 million budget and $1.9 million second ballot question were both passed by voters in last week's elections.

The 2005-2006 base budget was approved by a margin of nearly two to one. In the Township, the tally was 911 to 479, but in the Borough it passed by a narrower vote of 342 to 220.

The second ballot question, which allows the district to use additional taxpayer dollars beyond the state's spending cap, passed by only 22 votes in the Borough, and 195 votes in the Township, receiving 52 and 57 percent of the votes, respectively.

All three incumbent candidates for School Board - Michael Mostoller, Walter Bliss, and Jeffrey Spear – were re-elected for three-year terms.

Only 9 percent of Borough voters and 13 percent of Township voters turned out for last week's elections, slightly more than last year's 6 percent for the Borough and 7 percent for the Township. Last year's approved budget was $62.3 million, 7 percent less than the 2005-2006 budget.

Taxes will now increase 14 cents for Borough residents, up to $1.72 per $100 of assessed property value, and 11 cents in the Township, up to $1.54. For the average Borough resident, with a home assessed at $348,989, taxes will increase $494. For a Township taxpayer, with a home assessed at $418,097, the increase this year will be $476.

The $1.9 million supplemental budget is broken down into three parts: $1.4 million for academic intervention and support programs; $247,000 for program enhancements; and $198,000 for school safety.

Among the programs and support staff included in the $1.4 million are four employees at the elementary level to serve as guidance counselors and social workers, at a cost of $320,000; funding to continue the district's preschool program at a cost of $215,000; and four early intervention teachers to work with children in grades kindergarten through second on reading and literacy skills, at a cost of $260,000.

The second question also includes $150,000 for field upgrades at the middle school and high school, improvements that were added to the budget in response to a Title IX lawsuit that was filed in the fall by parents of female athletes at PHS.

Factors that influenced this year's budget include a 40 percent increase in building space following the expansion of the four elementary schools and middle school, as well as the state's new bill, S-1701. The bill, which is designed to provide tax relief, restricts how much a district can spend and what it can spend it on. Board members said it was because of this bill that a second ballot question had to be part of this year's election.

A total of $1.3 million dollars was cut from this year's budget to meet the state's spending cap. Cuts were made by consolidating some instructional services, taking away funding for community-based, non-profit groups, and refusing more than $2 million that was recommended by principals and supervisors for district needs.

A Grateful Board

In a meeting with members of the Board of Education late last week, the word that was most often used to describe the passing of both parts of the budget was "grateful."

"The taxpayers will see the yield of their investments," said Superintendent Judith Wilson, adding that the proposed programs and staffing in the second question were not decisions the Board had taken lightly.

The new programs on the ballot question are set to be implemented at the start of school in September, the superintendent added.

Once the budget goes into effect on July 1, Board members will begin the process of hiring the new staff and support, including the security for the middle school and high school, which includes two monitors at salaries of $45,000 each, and a dean of students for PHS, at a salary of $90,000.

While the Board has not come to a conclusive decision as to exactly what type of security it will hire, members have said that the security monitors will be unarmed and not in uniform. The Board will hold further discussions on the matter in upcoming committee meetings, said Board Vice President Charlotte Bialek: "We've certainly heard a great deal on what the public wants [for school security] and will take that into account."

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