With a continued goal of “maintaining excellence within a conservative budget” under a two percent cap mandated by the State, the Princeton Board of Education has approved a total operating budget of $75,607,106 for 2012-2013. The total tax levy on area residents will be $63,434,108. This year’s numbers were described as a budget that allows the district to “move forward,” but “without much growth.”
In the Borough the budget translates as a $337 tax increase on a house with an estimated average value of $748,155. Township residents will pay $906 based on an average home assessment of $822,262. Residents of both municipalities will decide whether or not to approve the budget at the upcoming April 17 election. A breakdown is available on the Princeton Regional School District’s web site and Facebook page.
This will be the last time the tax levy question will be considered by the two municipalities, which will consolidate in January 2013, the mid-point of the district’s budget year. In future years, observed Superintendent Judy Wilson, the process will be easier to compute.
In addition to weighing in on the budget, April 17 will also be an opportunity for residents to select new board members. In the Borough, incumbent Rebecca Cox and newcomers Dudley Sipprelle and Martha Land will be vying for two seats. There is just one candidate, Patrick Sullivan, for the single Township seat that is opening up. Residents will have an opportunity to meet the candidates on Tuesday, April 10, from 7:30 to 9 p.m., at the Special Education PTO’s annual School Board Candidates’ Night. The meeting will be held in the library of the John Witherspoon Middle School.
Ms. Wilson reminded everyone that the budget, a single “yea” or “nay” question on the ballot, represents the greatest part of the annual school budget, including everything from cleaning supplies to classroom needs. A “very small percentage of subsidies and grants,” adding up to $2,26,340, provides some assistance.
The two percent cap implemented in recent years and the sizable budget cuts made in 2010 continues to present challenges, said Ms. Wilson. Despite the restoration of some of the lost dollars, the district is still $440,000 short. Using “every dollar wisely to maximize community’s investment in our schools,” she said, leaves little or no money for purchasing new technology or improving infrastructure. There are, however, no plans for laying off any staff at this time. School and department budgets remain at 2011-12 levels, Ms. Wilson reported, as a result of stabilizing “utility bills through controls and efficiencies.” Variables during the coming year include enrollment numbers and evaluation results. The State’s “adequacy” vs. “excellence” mandate, she added, will continue “to be a problem for Princeton.” She described money allocated to the Princeton Charter School and and funds required for health benefit contributions as “wild cards” that will continue to rise.
Describing them as “phenomenal volunteers,” Ms. Wilson thanked the parents, alumni, corporations, and others who contribute money to “help keep things going despite the gap.”
Although, as Ms. Wilson noted, 90 percent of the rest of the state has opted not to have April elections, Prince-tonians will be going to the polls that month as a result of “a well-principled decision” made by the Board. Ms. Wilson suggested that they may choose to revisit it in years to come.
Also at last week’s meeting, the Board recognized departing members Mia Cahill (two terms) and Charles Kalmbach (one term) for being active on various Board committees and serving as Board representatives to several PTOs (parent teacher organization).
In other business, the Board saluted the Princeton High School Boys Swim Team for winning the state championship and finishing the season with an unbeaten record. Coach Greg Hand told listeners that the “crystal clear fact” is “that these young men, this team, did all the work.” They were, he added, “at their best when their best was needed.” Those attending the meeting then got to break for cupcakes with blue icing.
The next meeting of the Board of Education will be Tuesday, April 24, at 8 p.m. in John Witherspoon Middle School.