Some school budgets will be tough sells

Some school budgets
will be tough sells

Some area residents will be shocked when they read about tax increases associated with school budgets for the 2002-03 school year.

Board of education members and school administrators have been working over the past few months to develop their spending plans for the upcoming academic 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 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 in the tax rates that will cost them hundreds of dollars more in property taxes. A portion of some districts’ looming tax increases is tied to construction projects that have recently been approved in order to handle the skyrocketing enrollment.

April 16 is the day when residents will go to the polls to cast their ballots on the proposed school spending plans. Defeated budgets will be reviewed by municipal governments for recommendations of possible cuts. With 80 percent, or more, of the budget tied up in fixed costs, the cuts, as always, will come directly in student programs.

Nowhere in the Tri-Town News coverage area will residents be hit harder than they will be hit in Howell. In that community, residents are facing a rise in the local school tax rate of 12.8 cents and a rise in the Freehold Regional High School District tax rate of 13.5 cents. The combined increase of 26.3 cents will cost the owner of a home assessed at $200,000 about $520 more in school taxes in the coming year.

In terms of getting information to residents, we must note that Dr. Joan Nesenkar Saylor, the business administrator in the Freehold Regional High School District, went out of her way on Monday to accommodate this newspaper’s deadline and furnish projected tax rates for the district’s eight sending communities in advance of a March 25 public hearing on the budget.

In a year when some school administrators were reluctant to provide information because, we believe, they did not want to be perceived as the "bad guys," Saylor made the FRHSD tax information public on the day it became available.

In a similar vein, James Edwards, business administrator in the Plumsted school district, and administrators in the Jackson school district had their budget numbers ready and available. Their cooperation and willingness to discuss a story that is detailed and often difficult to explain should give residents of those communities confidence that although the news may not always be good, it can be discussed in a professional manner.