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School Budget of $62.3 Million Passes Amid Low Voter Turnout at Area Polls

Candace Braun

The $62.3 million budget for the Princeton Regional School District passed by a margin of 2 to 1 last week when voters approved the budget 671 to 332. Incumbents Charlotte Bialek, JoAnn Cunningham, and Alan Hegedus were all re-elected onto the School Board.

"I'm very pleased," said Ms. Bialek, School Board president. "This was a great indicator of the confidence the community has in its School Board."

Ms. Bialek did say she was disappointed, however, in the low turnout of voters. Only 301 out of 5,386 Borough residents, and 702 out of 9,626 Township residents voted in the election on Tuesday, April 20. This is equivalent to only six percent of Borough residents and seven percent of Township residents who are eligible to vote.

A total of $46.2 million of the district's budget will affect property taxes in Princeton. Borough taxes will increase 10 cents, to $1.56 per $100 of assessed valuation of land, and seven cents in the Township, bringing taxes up to $1.43.

Last year taxes increased more significantly in a budget of $58 million, with an increase of 11 percent in the Borough and nine percent in the Township.

Over $2.4 million was cut from this year's budget to bring it under the state-imposed budget "cap." Those cuts include three faculty positions in the district.

Some of the largest factors affecting this year's budget included increased costs in special education, health benefits, transportation, and maintenance and facilities. Unfunded state mandates, which include the No Child Left Behind Act, also became a factor in the budget.

"What is so great about Princeton is that people support education even if it means raising taxes," said Superintendent Claire Sheff Kohn.

The School Board recently received Dr. Kohn's official resignation from her post in the district. She has accepted a superintendent's position in Masconomet, Mass., and will be leaving Princeton on July 31.

School Board incumbents ran uncontested this year, thus all three will serve another three-year term on the Board. Dr. Cunningham received 532 votes, Mr. Hegedus received 227 votes, and Ms. Bialek received 544 votes, the highest of the three candidates.

Entering her third term as a Township representative on the Board, Ms. Bialek has been the Board's president since February 2000. However she says she intends to nominate her fellow Board member, Anne Burns, for the position of Board president for the upcoming school year. Ms. Bialek said she hopes to take on the position of vice president.

Ms. Burns, who currently serves as vice president for the Board, said she would look forward to the opportunity to serve as Board president.

"I'm very honored and looking forward to the opportunity to serve the Board," said Ms. Burns prior to the Board's decision. "I appreciate the support the other Board members have given me."

The Board selected a new president and vice president at a Board meeting held Tuesday night after Town Topics press time.

Board Incumbents

Ms. Bialek is an active member of the facilities and finance committees, and serves as the Board liaison to the Joint Task Force on Community Facilities. She was also a member of the the Princeton Regional Education Association (PREA) contract negotiation team.

Ms. Bialek has two children, both of whom have attended Princeton Regional Schools.

Dr. Cunningham will be serving a second term in a Township seat on the Board. She serves as a member of the program and personnel committees, and is Board liaison to the Princeton Young Achievers and the Special Education PTO.

Dr. Cunningham is an assistant professor of African, African-American, and Caribbean Studies at William Patterson University. She is a 20-year resident of Princeton and the mother of one Princeton High School graduate.

Mr. Hegedus will be taking on a second term as a Borough representative on the Board. A retired corporate executive, he serves as chair of the Board's finance committee. He is also a member of the facilities committee, and the Princeton Regional Administrators Association (PRAA) contract negotiation team.

Mr. Hegedus is a member of the Nassau Club and Springdale Golf Club, and has served as past chair of the Princeton Area United Way.

The Borough resident has three children and four grandchildren, one of whom will be attending Riverside Elementary School in the fall.

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