Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXI, No. 21
Wednesday, May 23, 2007
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School Board Votes $1.05 Million Cut to Reduce Tax Levy

Linda Arntzenius

After the defeat of the Princeton Regional Schools' 2007-08 budget on April 17, officials from Princeton Borough and Princeton Township, working with the Board of Education, agreed to cut $1,050,000 from the tax levy for Princeton homeowners.

Meeting on Wednesday, May 16, at 8:30 a.m. in the John Witherspoon Middle School, members of the school board voted on specific cuts to meet the reduction that will take the tax levy from the proposed $56.2 million rejected by Princeton voters to just under $55.14 million.

At Wednesday's meeting, Superintendent of Schools Judith A. Wilson gave assurances that no services to students would be cut. "The board has worked hard to make cuts that will not impact programs. We are making savings based on some retirements and resignations and postponing the expansion of special education services at the high school," she said.

"Our approach has been to spread the cuts in a balanced way across the board, across several categories ranging from supplies, athletics, equipment, and stipends. But make no mistake, we are losing over a million dollars here and this takes hiring options off the table."

Ms. Wilson said that the cuts would not only be felt in the coming year but in future budgets. "This cut constitutes $1 million this year and $1 million plus 4 percent next year, and so on. It is with us forever," she said. "The next dollar of cuts would have had an impact on programs and personnel."

Since the budget's defeat, members of the Board of Education worked with Princeton Borough and Township officials to prepare a revised budget by the County's deadline of Monday, May 21.

The first step was to identify a dollar amount, and the municipalities hired consultant CPA Peter Martin of McCormac & Co. and the Hamilton Financial Group to help with the task.

Mr. Martin's draft analysis had pointed to potential savings of $3.4 million, including a $1.4 million cut in tuition for out-of-district placement of students, which number, it was suggested, the board had overestimated.

Specific recommendations included: savings of $200,000 from additional retirements and resignations that had -occurred since the budget was drafted; cutting five teaching positions for a saving of $300,000 (including benefits); and saving $615,000 by reducing the number of classroom aides.

Among other items, the draft suggested trimming co-curricular activities by $70,000, custodial salaries by $75,000, and postponing the purchase of new computer equipment for a saving this year of $99,675.

The draft also found savings in the area of construction for which the district maintains a capital reserve account to fund construction projects included in its long range facility plan. It suggested a reduction of $250,000 in the district-budgeted $1 million for construction services and suggested the board look to its capital reserve to pay for some of these items or find funding to help offset project costs as, for example, in the case of grants to help fund the solar energy installation.

The analysis also suggested that the district had a history of underestimating its fund balance and advised it to appropriate an additional $400,000 from this source.

Budget Reduction

In spite of Mr. Martin's draft recommendations, however, Borough and Township leaders approved just $1.05 million in cuts, which was more than the $1.03 million that the Board of Education had first suggested.

At Wednesday's meeting, the Board of Education voted to approve the following savings: $279,580 in special education extraordinary aid; $115,420 by teachers' retirements and resignations; $117,000 in capital projects; $100,000 in equipment reduction; $125,000 in fund balance dollars; $125,000 by postponing a proposed a special education (autism) class at the high school; $45,000 in stipends; $5,000 in advertising; $12,000 by eliminating an advanced placement Japanese class at the high school for which an insufficient number of students had enrolled; $30,000 in professional development (which would become more grant dependent); $16,000 in athletics (which could come from reduced transportation costs); $20,000 in supplies; and $60,000 by eliminating a proposed elementary school teaching position.

Tax Rates

Given the reduction, tax rates will increase by 14.5 cents in Princeton Borough and 9 cents in Princeton Township.

The budget cuts mean that property taxes will go up by a little less than anticipated before the budget was voted down. Township homeowners can expect to pay 9 cents instead of 10 cents (per $100 of assessed value) and Borough homeowners, 14.5 cents instead of 16 cents (per $100 of assessed value).

In the Borough, taxes will be raised to $1.875 per $100 of assessed value. For a home assessed at the average of $348,413, the annual tax bill will be $6,533 (that's an increase of 8.4 percent over last year's bill when the rate was $1.73 per $100 of assessed value).

In the Township, taxes will go up to $1.71 per $100 of assessed value. For a home assessed at the average of $427,900, the annual tax bill will be $7,317 (an increase of 5.6 percent over last year's bill when the rate was $1.62 per $100 of assessed value).

The revised 2007-08 budget of $75.46 million represents a $3.06 million increase over the last year's budget of $72.4 million (or 4.2 percent).

The Princeton Difference

According to views expressed in letters to Town Topics, the district's per-pupil cost compared to other school districts has some residents concerned.

New Jersey's comparative per-pupil cost calculation shows that the district expects to spend $16,834 per student in the coming school year while Montgomery projects $10,232 per student, and West Windsor-Plainsboro expects to spend $12,457 per student.

While Princeton High School had the second-highest SAT scores in the state this year, outranking both Montgomery and West Windsor-Plainsboro, those districts' high schools also ranked in the state's top 10.

The next meeting of the Board of Education will take place on Tuesday, June 12, at 8 p.m. in the cafeteria at John Witherspoon Middle School.

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