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Vol. LXIII, No. 12
Wednesday, March 25, 2009
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School Budget May Mean Tax Hike

Linda Arntzenius

At a special meeting of the Princeton Regional Schools Board of Education on Tuesday, March 17, a tentative total budget of $80,806,455 for the 2009-2010 school year was approved in time to meet the Mercer County deadline of March 18.

The board voted unanimously (in the absence of two members, Rebecca Cox and JoAnn Cunningham) to adopt a budget that would increase local taxes by about $28 for average homeowners in the Township and by $270 for average homeowners in the Borough.

A public hearing on the budget and its implications for local taxpayers will take place at in the John Witherspoon Middle School cafeteria on Tuesday, March 31, at 8 p.m.

Princeton taxpayers will vote on the budget in the April 21 school elections.

The proposed budget, which Schools Superintendent Judith A. Wilson pointed out is still “tentative,” represents an increase of less than 1 percent in operating expenses.

According to a fact sheet provided to board members last week, the tentative budget includes $1.3 million of cuts in personnel, as well as cuts in out-of-district tuition costs for special education, district-wide reductions in transportation costs, supplies, and resources, and maintaining health care costs for district employees at a flat level. Twelve full-time jobs will be cut, including two faculty positions and 10 support positions.

The proposed budget comprises an operating budget of $74,140,915, grants and entitlements of $1,988,008, and debt repayment of $4,677,552.

If approved by the County and by subsequent public vote, the upshot will be a tax levy on Princeton Borough and Township homeowners of $57,922,997, an increase of some $700,000 over the revised budget for the current 2008-09 year.

The overall $80.8 million figure constitutes an increase of $104,283 compared to the revised 2008-09 budget.

“We really worked hard to keep costs down, cutting everything we could that was not programmatic,” commented Board Secretary Stephanie Kennedy, by phone Friday. “Budget savings from contract negotiations will enable the district to maintain a flat budget amount for health benefits insurance for 2009-10.”

Ms. Kennedy confirmed that the proposed budget would result in a 3.93 percent increase in taxes for Princeton Borough homeowners whose rate would go up by about eight cents to $2.04 per $100 of assessed value. The rate for the current year is $1.96 per $100 of assessed value. This would mean that the owner of an average Borough home, assessed at $351,761, would face, as stated, a $270 increase in annual school taxes.

In contrast, the owner of an average home in the Township, assessed at $434,108, could expect to see the above mentioned increase of $28 in annual school taxes, based on the proposed rate of $1.71 per $100 of assessed property value. The rate for the current year is just under $1.70 per $100 of assessed property value. The increase amounts to 0.65 cents per $100 of assessed value, or 0.38 percent.

At last week’s meeting, Ms. Wilson commented that the disproportion between the Borough and the Township was not under the control of the board and is a result of a state-mandated formula based on real estate values in the two communities.

“In a nutshell, the total 2009-2010 operating expenses will increase by 0.98 percent, leading to an overall tax impact of 0.69 percent,” said Ms. Wilson.

Board President Alan Hegedus commended the board and district administrators for producing a tight budget in difficult times.

Board member and Borough resident Joshua Leinsdorf emphasized “that, contrary to wide-spread public perception, Princeton Regional Schools received a cut in state funding.”

“Even though newspapers are full of how Governor Corzine’s recent budget spared the ax for education, this district got a cut amounting to $650,000 less for education,” said Mr. Leinsdorf. “In Princeton our aid was cut and that fact bears repeating,” he said.

Mr. Leinsdorf, a professional election analyst, has been a frequent critic of state involvement in public schools. Currently serving as chairman of the finance committee and as a member of the facilities committee, Mr. Leinsdorf recently announced that he will not stand for re-election in April after nine years of service. He plans to devote his efforts for change in public education at the state and national levels.

In addition to the budget, the board approved funds for work at the Valley Road Building, which houses the districts administrative offices. The HVAC system is to be replaced, health and safety issues are to be addressed as well as other small retrofit projects. This cost of this work, which is not included in the budget, will be covered by a draw of $1.5 million from the district’s capital reserve.

The next meeting of the board will take place on Tuesday, March 31, at 8 p.m. in the cafeteria of the John Witherspoon Middle School.

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