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School Board Proposes $62.1 Million Budget For the 2004-05 Year

Candace Braun

The Princeton Regional Board of Education unanimously voted to introduce a $62.1 million budget during a special budget meeting held last week. Borough and Township residents, who will vote on the budget on April 20, will be responsible for paying $46.2 million of this amount.

This will cause an increase of approximately 10 cents per $100 of assessed valuation for Borough residents, and an increase of seven cents for Township residents.

Last year, with an approved budget of $58 million, taxes were increased by 11 percent in the Borough, and nine percent in the Township. If this year's budget is approved, taxes will increase by seven percent in the Borough, and five percent in the Township.

"We've gone through another difficult budget year," said Alan Hegedus, finance chairman for the Board at the meeting on March 9.

The Board member said that the district is continually forced to tack on unfunded mandates, which leaves little or no money for local spending.

Some of those mandates include the No Child Left Behind Act, and transportation for special education, which is predicted to exceed the allotted spending by $162,150 next year.

"We found ourselves not with the local ability to make budget decisions [this year]," said Mr. Hegedus. "Our local ability to prioritize our spending ... has really been limited."

This year's budget will only contain Level I spending, which includes expenditures needed to maintain programs. No Level II spending, which would pay to expand programs or add on new ones, will be part of the budget.

"It has not been a pleasant environment. We very much want to award some of the Level II [requests]," said Mr. Hegedus.

A total of $496,400 will also be taken from the district's capital reserve to furnish the four elementary schools and middle school once construction is complete. Originally these costs were supposed to be covered in the bond referendum, part of the district's $81.3 million construction project on all six schools in the district. However due to unforeseen costs, including custodial overtime at the start of the school year, and the installation of a ventilation system at all four elementary schools during construction, these funds were used up.

An additional $103,600 will also be taken from the district's reserve to pay professional fees that mounted while construction was delayed.

Neither of these costs will affect taxes in Princeton, said Stephanie Kennedy, Board secretary.

The district's budget for 2004-05 has been sent to the Mercer County superintendent of schools for review. The Board will hold a public hearing to adopt the budget on March 30.

High School Trailers

In related news, the Board received three bids by March 9 to build the Princeton High School's temporary classrooms, which were to be voted on at the special budget meeting. However the lowest bidder, Vanguard Modular Building Systems, located in Bridgewater, was unable to come through with the proper paperwork in time, which forced the Board to reject the bid.

With an estimated budget of $377,000 for the classrooms, Vanguard came in under budget with a low bid of $244,000. However since the next lowest bid was $134,000 higher, the Board was forced to reject all bids and to request new bidders to come forward before the end of the month.

Currently 12 trailers sit on the high school site, and the four additional trailers would be placed on the Houghton Street side of the building.

New bids for the classroom trailers will be opened and a new contractor will be chosen at the Board's meeting on March 30.

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