School budget news will come as shock to some

School budget news will
come as shock to some

It must be a shock for many area residents to read about the tax increases associated with school budgets for the 2002-03 school year.

A damaging blow was dealt to school boards and to residents when Gov. James McGreevey announced that as one way of dealing with the state’s multibillion-dollar deficit, state aid provided to local school districts for the 2002-03 school year would be frozen at the 2001-02 level.

That is especially painful to districts that are experiencing continued increases in enrollment. As one local school superintendent summed it up, it’s like a person being told to feed more mouths at the table this year with the same amount of money he made the previous year.

Residents who read the stories about the 2002-03 school budgets will learn about proposed increases that will cost them hundreds of dollars more in property taxes. A portion of some districts’ looming tax increases is tied to construction projects to deal with skyrocketing enrollment — other built-in increases in many budgets deal with special education, salaries and health insurance.

In our continuing reports of school budget news, we have only seen one of our school districts, South River, come in with a tax decrease (less than 1 cent). Otherwise, we are seeing tax increases spanning from a few cents to as high as 35 cents per $100 of assessed valuation, which is being proposed in East Brunswick. This is easily the highest school tax increase proposed in the region, and furthermore, it hits taxpayers just one year after they were saddled with a 24-cent increase in school taxes.

Combined, these two years of increases would amount to paying $590 more than you did two years ago if you own a home assessed at $100,000. If you own a home with a $200,000 assessment, that would amount to an increase of $1,180 over two years. And that’s just school taxes.

Clearly, many residents will have an extremely difficult time grasping this news. But it is important to understand that in a large district such as East Brunswick, the budget — at $98 million — is difficult to cut in a way that would make a great difference. Even the shelved proposal of privatizing custodial services, which would have brought $800,000 in savings, would have saved only 2 cents on the tax rate. And the proposal itself was met with staunch opposition.

In East Brunswick, as in all school districts, residents will get the chance to ask questions during public hearings, and then they can cast their votes on the proposed spending plans during the April 16 school elections.

It seems there’s never been a more important time than this year for residents to find out exactly where their money is going and to give input and advice regarding these budgets.