Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXV, No. 30
Wednesday, July 27, 2011
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New School Allocation Will Support Personnel, Technology, Facilities

Ellen Gilbert

While the Department of Education (DOE) touted Governor Christie’s new allocation of $17 million in “new aid” for New Jersey’s public schools, Princeton Superintendent Judy Wilson put the numbers in perspective.

“We will receive $741,000, which is equivalent to one-fifth of the total aid cut for the 2010-2011 school year. A second fifth was already restored in the original 2011-2012 budget planning. So,” she concluded, “we are forty percent restored from the cuts of March 2010.”

Despite the fact that the numbers still fall short, Board of Education Finance Committee Chair Charles Kalmbach expressed gratitude “for the money that has come back to us.”

“This is an opportune time for us,” continued Mr. Kalmbach, noting that “the biggest chunk of money will be for personnel.” A dramatic increase in the number of students at Princeton High School (PHS) needs to be met with the hiring of additional staff. Although there are several hypotheses, Mr. Kalmbach said that it’s not yet clear what accounts for the striking rise in PHS enrollment. Ms. Wilson is expected to talk about the change at the Board’s next meeting, on August 30.

Two other categories, technology and facilities, will also benefit from the new infusion of money. As a result of last year’s diminished budget, the district had “cut out all but essential maintenance,” Mr. Kalmbach said. “Now we can do maintenance that we postponed.”

He described the amount earmarked for technology as “modest,” providing “some very bare bones technologies that have to be replaced.”

The pressure to come up with a productive budget continues, however. Mr. Kalmbach said that budget challenges “are twofold.” They include “the specter” of ever-increasing health care costs,” and the annual allocation ($4 million dollars, this year) that the district gives to the Princeton Charter School.

He described recent 20 and 30 percent increases in health coverage as being “truly out of our hands,” with no one at the state or federal level “doing anything about it.” School administration, he said “did a spectacular job of finding ways to counteract that cost” this year, especially in the face of a two percent cap on expenses. While employees enjoy the benefits of the new health care law, Mr. Kalmbach observed, health care companies are “justifiably increasing their premiums. We’re very concerned about the structural issue of health care costs.”

With respect to the Princeton Charter School, said Mr. Kalmbach, “I asked the finance people and administration to do a very detailed study of the cost for educating the 200 plus students who are there; what if they moved back to the school system?” Describing the analysis as “very specific” and “child by child,” he reported that the budget they came up with “equalled $1.3 million.”

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