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School Board Eyes $67 Million Budget

Candace Braun

A $67 million tentative budget for the 2005-2006 school year was announced at the Princeton Regional School Board's finance committee meeting on Monday. This budget does not include the $1.895 million second question, which will ask voters to fund additional programming for the district, much of it focusing on academic intervention and support, as well as additional staffing for the elementary schools and funding for middle school and high school athletics.

If approved by voters on April 19, the budget will raise taxes in the Borough eight cents per $100 of assessed valuation of land, and Township taxes by six cents. This does not include the funding for the second question, which would raise Borough taxes an additional six cents, and Township taxes an additional five cents.

If the entire budget and second question are approved by voters, Borough taxes will be raised to $1.72, up from $1.56 in the 2004-2005 school year; Township taxes will be raised to $1.54, up from $1.43.

The overall budget will increase almost $5 million from last year's $62.3 million budget; however, approximately $2 million of that budget will be funded through federal and state grants. The district is also receiving $3.3 million from Cranbury for tuition compared to the $3.015 million it received last year, said Board Secretary Stephanie Kennedy. Princeton will have 18 additional Cranbury students this year, which will up the Cranbury enrollment to approximately 243 students. The overall Princeton student population will remain flat, so this growth shouldn't have a large effect on the schools, she said.

In addition, the Princeton Charter School received state funding to cover the tuition of 288 students, which covers everyone on the list of students wanting to attend the school during the 2005-2006 school year, said Ms. Kennedy.

But despite the many breaks the district received from various sources, Princeton's state aid is frozen once again this year, making it the fourth year in a row that funding didn't increase, said the Board secretary.

"We got everything we expected to get," she said, adding that the district must continually rely on no more additional funding from the state than it had received in the previous year.

The district also faced an additional obstacle this year, the state's new S-1701 bill, which caps the district's budget at a three percent surplus, as compared to six percent in previous years. Due to this new law, $1.3 million in budget cuts were made to this year's budget, which include funding to Princeton Young Achievers and Springboard, two after-school programs for students. Ten aide positions and three teacher positions will be removed from the budget, as well.

Ms. Kennedy also announced that $100,000 that was previously set aside for technical equipment at Princeton High School as part of the second question has been reallocated to fund the salaries of two additional science teachers at the elementary school level, as requested by elementary principals.

One item on the second question which has already received comment from several Princeton parents is $90,000 earmarked for two full-time security monitors at the middle school and high school, as well as an additional $90,000 for additional administrative assistance at PHS, possibly in the form of a dean of students.

According to the Board secretary, many of the programs and other school enhancements that now need to be funded through a second question would have more than likely been covered under the regular budget if the state hadn't decreased the budget cap this year.

The Princeton Regional School Board was scheduled to vote on the tentative budget at its meeting Tuesday night. The budget will be sent to the county and reviewed with Ms. Kennedy on Thursday.

There will be a public discussion of the 2005-2006 budget at the Board's meeting on March 29. Voters will have the opportunity to vote on the budget, as well as voting for the three incumbent candidates for school board – Michael Mostoller, Walter Bliss, and Jeffrey Spear – during the April 19 elections.

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