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School Board Discusses “Very Tight” Budget; Position Freeze Suggested

Ellen Gilbert

Although all the numbers were not yet in, the Princeton Regional School Board is examining a proposed annual budget that could levy a near $2 million tax burden on Princeton residents, representing a 3.6 percent tax increase. The board held a budget workshop last Wednesday to examine figures already in hand, and while anticipated health benefit costs were not included in the review, board members maintained that the proposed budget represents the kind of belt tightening required to avoid a repeat of the voting down of the 2007 schools budget.

It is anticipated that the state budget for the coming year, due to be announced on February 26, will be the same as the budget for this year — in other words, a setback, in light of increasing costs. Using a wealth-based formula, the state has suggested that the local tax base for supporting area schools should be 4 percent, or $30 million more than the $86 million already being budgeted by the Board.

The Township’s share for the proposed budget is 67.2 percent, representing a 1.18 percent decrease from 68 percent in 2007. The Borough will cover a projected 32.8 percent, a 2.5 percent increase from its 32 percent rate last year. The increased tax rate for the Borough is something of an anomaly; usually the Township shoulders an increase. Board members suggested that the reason for this change is the discrepancy in the rate at which houses in the Borough and Township are currently valued, with the value of houses in the Borough decreasing at a slower rate (or, perhaps, rising faster) than those in the Township. It will take at least another year, it is believed, to see how the housing picture develops, board members said.

Describing the financial picture as “very tight,” and lacking “latitude,” the board proposed a “position freeze” for the next 12 months. With high school class sizes in English, social studies, world languages, and math classes “bursting” at between 29 and 31 students, and electric rates increasing by double digits every year, he noted that “the product has been the same for the last ten years.” Requests for additional staff to ease overcrowded classrooms have been denied.

There is some consolation, it was noted, in the fact that the board has not had to do “programmatic harm” or “dismantling” yet, as a result of diminished funds. Board members also concurred that the schools are in a much better place than they were a decade ago, when programs were lost as personnel left the district, several Superintendents came and went in quick succession, and things were, as Mr. Spear put it, “going underwater.”

A tentative budget will be adopted at the next board meeting, which was recently rescheduled from February 26 to March 4. Budget hearings are scheduled for March 20.

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