April 28, 2021

School Board Expected To Approve $96.3M budget for 2021-22 School Year

By Donald Gilpin

At their Tuesday night, April 27, meeting, the Princeton Public Schools (PPS) Board of Education (BOE) was expected to approve a $96.3 million operating budget for the 2021-22 school year, the lowest percentage tax increase in nine years, according to a PPS press release.

PPS Business Administrator Matthew Bouldin pointed out a tax increase of just one percent for the general fund and a 0.564 percent overall increase, including the general fund and debt service.

The operating budget is $700,000 more than the 2020-21 operating budget of $95.6 million. The total budget, including debt service and grants, Bouldin added, is $108.2 million, an increase of about $2 million over the previous year. He added that the proposed budget would most likely not necessitate any cuts in staff or programs.

“The district’s financial position is strong,” said Interim Superintendent Barry Galasso, “and Mr. Bouldin and the Board of Education have done excellent work in identifying savings and opportunities to reduce the growth rate in several expense categories.” Galasso noted that in controlling expenses and identifying alternate sources of revenue the BOE had helped to minimize tax increases.

He also mentioned that PPS would be proposing the most extensive summer programs ever offered in the district to promote learning opportunities, social and emotional health, and bonding activities.

The April 27 PPS press release reported that over the past two fiscal years there have been between $2 million and $2.5 million in pandemic-related cost savings and about an equal amount of extra costs. Savings were mostly realized during periods of remote-only instruction and included transportation costs (busing) and lower energy costs.

The extra costs were mainly attributed to improving school HVAC systems, PPE, and supporting teaching during the pandemic with new technology, teacher resources, and tents. The district anticipates that many costs related to the pandemic will be reimbursed by federal funding initiatives.

The 2021 operating budget calls for $80.8 million to be raised in property taxes from Princeton’s residential and commercial property owners. The proposed tax levy is an increase of $796,000 over the current budget. An increase of two cents in the 2021 calendar year school district property tax rate means it will increase from $1.183 to $1.201 per $100 of assessed value.

The average Princeton home, currently assessed at $841,064, would pay $10,101.13 in school district property taxes, an increase of $151.51 over the current $9,949.79. In the most recent year with audited results the local tax levy accounted for 86.4 percent of the revenue for the school district.

Additional financial challenges faced by the district this year included rising health care costs, decreasing enrollment from Cranbury students and the resulting decline in Cranbury’s tuition payments, and an increase in appropriations to Princeton Charter School due to an increase in the tuition payment, based in part on a decline in PPS enrollment of about 150 students, which is attributed to the pandemic.

PPS reported that several factors have helped to control upward budget trends, including stronger purchasing controls that have resulted in slower growth of expenses for supplies and services, along with slightly lower energy costs due to new high efficiency HVAC units installed in several schools.

“We have been able to modestly increase our fund balance, and this has enabled us to maintain our district’s AAA rating from Moody’s,” Bouldin said. He added that the new budget would allow the PPS to fund “urgent priorities associated with our facilities, including adding new high-efficiency HVAC units in some teaching spaces, replacing the pool HVAC system at the middle school, and some roofing replacements at Princeton High School.”

PPS will receive $4.5 million in state aid in 2021-22, an increase of $296,017 over the current budget. An additional $3.3 million from the fund balance will be used as revenue in the budget, as required by the state of New Jersey.

“This budget maintains our high levels of educational services while also focusing on financial efficiencies,” Bouldin said.