Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXIII, No. 8
Wednesday, February 25, 2009
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PRS Anticipates Flat Budget Scenario

Ellen Gilbert

Princeton Regional Schools (PRS) Superintendent Judy Wilson said she would be “shocked” if any of the money allocated in the Federal government’s recently approved economic stimulus package “landed in our coffers.” Speaking at a recent Board of Education budget workshop, she described the flat budget scenario the PRS administration is anticipating for 2009-2010.

PRS’s current revenue projection of $72,699,027 — $4,170 more than last year — was based on a hypothetical one percent tax levy increase. This would translate as an average tax increase of $246 for Borough homeowners, and $5 for Township homeowners, based on property values for houses assessed at $400,000 in the two municipalities. A shortfall of $1 million will require some cuts, and current suggested targets include $400,393 in student services, $157,620 in transportation costs, and $45,393 in the PRS office budget. The Board was due to meet again on Tuesday, February 24 (after press time). A fourth budget workshop will be held in March. The final budget is due to be submitted on March 18.

Ms. Wilson noted that the district has already adopted the practice of not filling positions left vacant by retirement, termination, or resignation until they are reviewed by the Personnel Committee, and that health benefits will remain flat in the coming year. Board member Joshua Leinsdorf, saying that he knew of one such instance, proposed a policy precluding “double dippers,” ensuring that anyone receiving a state pension cannot draw a salary from the district. The Board did not pursue this suggestion.

Vice-president Rebecca Cox noted the success of Princeton students, a.k.a. “The Princeton Difference,” in voicing the board’s reluctance to conform to state-wide median per capita spending rates. She said that recent statistics showing greater numbers of Princeton students participating in Advanced Placement classes and going on to four-year colleges compared to students in the West Windsor-Plainsboro system justify Princeton’s extra $4,000 per pupil annual expenditure.

Ms. Wilson cited her success in recent years of setting “two or three specific goals” and communicating them to the community, saying that she would do so again this year, in spite of budget strictures. Possible goals discussed at last Tuesday’s meeting included instruction for middle and high school students who are not strong readers, a K-8 writing program, and beefed-up instructional technology in classrooms.

Representative Rush Holt was credited with providing the district with “good updates” about the economic stimulus package. A potential “little pot” of about $140,000 that may come the district’s way will be used for construction projects such as installing energy efficient windows and doors. Although it has not yet been announced, Ms. Wilson said that a decline in state aid would not be particularly hurtful, since it typically amounts to just six to seven per cent of the district’s budget. A potential state transportation mandate changing the number of bus seats per student may, however, significantly impact transportation allocations, she said.

Noting that students who live within two miles of a bus stop are not required to be bussed by the district, Mr. Leinsdorf presented a plan that provided for middle and high school students to use public transportation. Expanding on the cost-saving advantages of such a plan, he suggested that assigning different specialties to area high schools and allowing students to attend the high school of their choice via public transportation would eliminate the current racial disparity in the numbers of white and minority students attending local schools.

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