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District Taxpayers to Receive Details on Increasing Budget

Candace Braun

Borough and Township taxpayers can expect soon to receive a mailed newsletter from the Princeton Regional Schools regarding the 2005-2006 budget.

The $67 million budget, as well as the $1.9 million second question, received tentative approval from the Board earlier this month, and was scheduled to receive final approval Tuesday night, following Town Topics' deadline.

If approved, the base budget will increase Borough taxes 5.29 percent, or 8 cents per $100 of assessed valuation of land, and Township taxes 4.17 percent, or six cents. This means for the average Borough taxpayer, with a home assessed at $348,989, taxes would increase $286 in 2005. A Township taxpayer, with a home assessed at $418,097, would have taxes increase $248.

This does not include the $1.9 million supplemental budget, which would raise the average Borough resident's taxes an additional $208, and a Township resident's taxes an additional $228.

The district's budget newsletter, which will be mailed to residents on April 5, is introduced with a letter from Superintendent Judith Wilson, who has only been with the district for two months. In the correspondence, she explains the reasons behind the district's decisions regarding next year's budget, including new state legislation that went into effect this year, bill S-1701, which places new caps and restrictions on the development of local school budgets, and keeps the district's savings account at a level of 3 percent. In previous years this was allowed to be as high as 6 percent.

While the bill was designed to provide tax relief, it caps what a district can spend and restricts what a district can spend it on. Without an adequate surplus, districts this year are being forced to cut existing programs and services to allow for funding in case of unforeseen emergencies.

Ms. Wilson also mentions that with the near completion of construction at the four elementary schools and middle school, as well as continued construction at Princeton High School, an additional 40 percent of square footage will require heating, cooling, maintenance, and staff next year. This funding, which was not needed in previous years, had to be included in next year's budget, and has resulted in cuts in other areas.

A total of $1.3 million was cut from the 2005-2006 budget, including consolidating some instructional services, taking away funding for community-based, non-profit groups, and the refusal of the more than $2 million that was recommended by principals and supervisors for district needs.

The $1.9 million supplemental budget, or second question, addresses other areas of district needs, including $1.4 million for academic intervention and support, $247,000 for enrichment programs, and $180,000 for school safety at the middle and high school level.

Taxpayers will have the opportunity to vote on the budget during the April 19 elections. If both the base budget and second question are approved by voters, Borough taxes would increase to $1.72 per $100 of assessed valuation of land, and Township taxes would increase to $1.54. However according to the Mercer County Board of Taxation, this would still keep Princeton well below the tax rate of its neighboring school districts, including Hightstown Borough, which had the highest taxes in 2004, standing at $3.01, and Lawrence Township, which lingered close to Princeton at $1.82 last year.

In the district's general fund expenditures for the 2005-2006 budget, salaries and benefits compose 69 percent. The remainder of the expenditures include special education, 10 percent; instruction, 7 percent; facilities and maintenance, 6 percent; transportation, 4 percent, and Princeton Charter School, 4 percent.

These and other statistics on the 2005-2006 budget can be found in the Princeton Regional Schools' budget newsletter, which will be sent to homes, as well as on the district's Web site, at http://www2.prs.k12.nj.us/.

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