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School Board Eyes Budget Cuts

Candace Braun

The Princeton Regional School Board announced budget cuts of $1.3 million for the 2005-06 budget at its meeting on Tuesday, February 15, as well as several additional budgetary items that would force a $1.87 million second question on the April budget vote.

Several items on the second question focus on academic intervention and support, including an in-house program for preschool autistic students, at a cost of $155,000; after-school literacy and math tutorials for grades four through 12, at a cost of $97,600; four elementary early intervention teachers at a cost of $260,000; and four staff members for each of the elementary schools who would provide combined support, including the work of a guidance counselor, social worker, and language consultant, at a cost of $320,000.

The second question also addresses the Title IX lawsuit filed in the fall by parents of high school softball and ice hockey parents, which states that the district is denying educational benefits to the girls' teams on the basis of gender. The district has set aside $150,000 for middle school and high school field upgrades, including John Witherspoon's softball field. The district also set aside $12,200 to increase competitive opportunities and travel expenses in middle school athletics.

An additional $100,000 for technical equipment at Princeton High School is part of the second question, as well as $85,000 to provide additional support for a middle school music program that was tailored for 30 students, but now has 120 participants. It would also finance an after-school instrumental program for elementary school students.

The district is looking to hire two full-time security monitors for the high school and middle school, as well as administrative support for Princeton High School, at a total cost of $180,000. See story on page 9 for more information.

Funded by the state this year, the district is looking to reallocate $215,000 for two teachers, two aides, and resources for the new preschool program at Johnson Park as part of the second question. This was done in part because the district is not guaranteed state funding every year, said Board President Anne Burns.

The $1.3 million in budget cuts bring the district down to a number that meets the state's new budget cap, as part of New Jersey's new S-1701 law. Last year Princeton was allowed a budget surplus of six percent; now however, it is only given a three percent surplus, which required the Board to closely examine programs not mandated by the state that could be cut.

This included Princeton Young Achievers and Springboard, two after-school programs for students which will no longer be funded by the district if the budget is passed by voters. The Board currently funds $65,000 to PYA, and $20,000 to Springboard's financial costs. Nancy Hartog, a member of PYA's Board of Trustees, pleaded with the school board to continue funding the organization.

"I'm quite impassioned about the needs of these kids and there are a lot of them," she said, adding that one-third of the organization's funding is provided by the district.

Superintendent Judith Wilson said the Board would consider continuing its support to PYA. Due to a decrease in enrollment, the salaries and benefits of 10 aides ($330,000), as well as three teacher positions ($165,000), will also be removed from the budget, said the Board. Ms. Wilson admitted that the current budget "leaves a lot of work undone and a lot of needs unmet."

The budget must be finalized by March 3, for a Board meeting discussion which will be held that night, said Ms. Wilson. It will then be sent to the state by March 8, and discussed in a public meeting on March 29. Residents will have the opportunity to vote on the budget and the second question during school elections on April 19.

In related news from the February 15 Board meeting, the Board unanimously voted to authorize the district to partner with the Princeton YMCA to implement the New Jersey After-3 Program at John Witherspoon Middle School. The program would provide month-long, enrichment-based activities for students from 3 to 6 p.m., said Ms. Wilson.

The program will be funded through a $231,000 state grant, as long as the district can prove it is able to serve 200 students throughout the year, and maintain an 80 percent attendance rate. The Board also approved a list of summer programs for the Princeton staff and community at John Witherspoon's new pool facility. The programs will include a competitive stroke program, as well as programs specified for faculty, senior citizens, and children, including swim lessons.

In addition, the Board approved a calendar for the 2005-06 school year. Classes will begin on September 8, and conclude on June 20, 2006, excluding snow days. Students will have breaks on September 6-7, November 7-9, December 23 through January 2, and April 8-16.

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