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District Passes Tentative Budget For 2005-2006

Candace Braun

The Princeton Regional School Board unanimously passed its tentative $67 million budget, and its $1.9 million in supplemental funding for the 2005-2006 school year, at its meeting last week. Board member JoAnn Cunningham was absent from the vote.

The budget, which includes $1.3 million in cuts, was sent to the county on March 9, and will be presented to residents for a vote on April 19 during elections. Walter Bliss, Jeffrey Spear, and Michael Mostoller will also be on the election ballots, running as uncontested incumbent candidates for school board.

The $67 million budget is broken down into $59.7 million in general revenue funds, $2 million for special revenue funds, and $5.5 million for debt service fund revenues. The base tax levy of $47.7 million is up $2 million from last year, making for a 4.5 percent tax increase this year, according to Board member Joshua Leinsdorf. This would mean a potential tax increase of 14 cents for Borough residents, up to $1.72 per $100 of assessed valuation of land, and 11 cents in the Township, up to $1.54.

Included in this tax increase is the supplemental budget, a six-cent increase for Borough residents, and a five-cent increase for Township residents. The $1.9 million supplemental budget, which will be presented as a second question to voters, includes $1.4 million for academic intervention and support programs, $247,000 for program enhancements, and $198,000 for school safety at the middle and high school level, and includes the purchase of six defibrillators.

One of the more costly items on the supplemental budget is the hiring of four employees for the elementary schools who would operate as both guidance counselors and social workers, at a cost of $320,000. The district is also looking to fund $215,000 toward its preschool program for four-year-olds, which was funded by the state this past year, and $260,000 for four early intervention teachers to work with children in grades kindergarten through second on reading and literacy skills.

The second question also includes $150,000 for field upgrades at the middle school and high school, including John Witherspoon's softball field, a measure taken in response to a Title IX lawsuit filed in the fall by parents of female athletes at the high school.

How to use the $180,000 towards security at the middle school and high school is the most contentious issue for parents and administrators, as the potential solutions have ranged from an armed police officer to a dean of students.

Board member Alan Hegedus noted that the district didn't receive the final numbers for state funding until the Friday before the budget was scheduled to be voted on by the Board, which left the finance committee with only a brief amount of time to put the final budget together. He added that unfunded state mandates and frozen state aid for the fourth year in a row also caused problems for the district's budget management.

However, the biggest obstacle faced by all the districts in the state this year was the S-1701 bill, which caps district budgets at a three percent surplus, as compared to six percent in previous years. The bill forced Princeton to make $1.3 million in budget cuts, including ten aide salaries and benefits, at $330,000; three teacher positions, at $165,000; and $85,000 for Springboard and Princeton Young Achievers, two after-school non-profit community programs that currently receive funding from the district.

A public discussion of the district's 2005-2006 budget will be part of the Board's March 29 meeting.


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