Spending hike will fund salary, energy costs

Voters will go to the polls Tuesday to decide the school board’s proposed budget for 2002-03.

By: Lea Kahn
   When township voters go to the polls Tuesday for the annual school board election, they will be asked to approve a $39.5 million tax levy to support the school district’s proposed operating budget for next year.
   The proposed budget includes a 6-cent tax rate increase, plus a one-time 1-cent levy for a second question.

   The polls will be open from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. Tuesday.

   Voters will vote on the $39.5 million tax levy to support the school district’s proposed $51 million budget for 2002-03. Also, voters will be asked to approve a second question to raise $360,000 to pay for improvements at the schools.

   In addition, School board members Philip Benson, Janardhan Manickam and Lawrence Reccoppa are seeking re-election to the three, three-year seats up for grabs in Tuesday’s school board election.

   Voters who live in general election districts 1, 4, 7, 15 and 20 will cast their ballots at the Lawrenceville Fire House at 64 Phillips Avenue.

   Voters who live in general election districts 13, 17, 18, 19 and 21 will vote at the Lawrenceville Elementary School at 40 Craven Lane.

   Voters who live in general election districts 2, 5, 9 and 10 will vote at the Slackwood Elementary School at 2060 Princeton Pike.

   Voters who live in general election districts 3 and 6 will vote at the Eldridge Park Elementary School at 55 Lawn Park Avenue.

   Voters who live in general election districts 8, 12 and 16 will vote at Lawrence High School at 2525 Princeton Pike,

   And voters who live in general election districts 11 and 14 will vote at the Ben Franklin Elementary School at 2939 Princeton Pike.

   If voters approve the proposed tax levy, the school property tax rate would rise from $1.50 per $100 of assessed value to $1.56. This means the owner of a house assessed at the township average of $161,570 would pay $2,520 — or $81 more than the 2001-02 tax bill of $2,439.
   If a second question to raise $360,000 is approved, that property owner would pay an additional $16 in property taxes.
   Last year, voters approved a second question that meant the owner of a house assessed at the township average paid an additional $32 in property taxes.
   If the 2002-03 budget is approved, the owner of a house assessed at the township average would pay a total of $97 in additional property taxes overall — an increase of 4.7 percent.
   The proposed operating budget, which includes all day-to-day expenses, has increased by $2.5 million, from $44.7 million for the current budget to $47.2 million, according to school district officials.
   The overall budget is $51 million, which includes $1.8 million in debt service and $1.8 million in special revenue funds.
   Much of the increase in spending is attributed to higher salaries and benefits costs, schools Superintendent Max Riley said Monday. Increasing energy costs also contributed to the hike.
   "Most of the budget goes to pay for salaries and benefits," said Dr. Riley. "Most of the increases in the budget are going directly to teachers. Given the competition for teacher labor, we have to be competitive in salaries."
   Increased salaries account for $1.9 million of increased spending, Dr. Riley said. The Lawrence Township Education Association settled a three-year contract last year, which took effect July 1, 2001. The contract calls for salary increases of 4.74 percent in the first year, 4.5 percent in the second year and 4.4 percent in the third year.
   The LTEA represents 363 employees, including teachers, guidance counselors, nurses, librarians, secretaries, custodial workers and instructional aides.
   Dr. Riley said the cost of fringe benefits, such as health insurance and workman’s compensation, went up by $1.1 million, and the cost of energy increased by $150,500.
   The school district will spend an additional $240,000 on services under the proposed budget. This covers occupational therapy, physical therapy, doctor’s expenses for physical exams for athletes, psychologist’s expenses for screening and contracts to maintain equipment and buildings.
   Actually, the additional expenses tally $3.4 million, but they are offset by decreases of $900,00 in spending on supplies, special education tuition and capital outlay portions of the budget. This reduces the overall proposed spending increase to $2.5 million.
   Several new programs are in the works for next year, Dr. Riley said. Districtwide, teachers will receive training in how to teach students who have different learning styles. They also will learn how to integrate special education students into the regular classroom.
   There is money in the budget for arts-infused literacy training for all kindergarten teachers, he said. The Reading Recovery program, which aims to help first-graders learn to read, will be continued.
   At Lawrence Intermediate School and Lawrence High School, there will be in-service training for teachers for the community service program, Dr. Riley said. Students will take what they have learned in class and apply it to a community service project.
   Two new programs are planned for Lawrence High School — the freshman agenda and an evening school.
   The freshman agenda is an intensive orientation program for 8th-graders. It would begin with a three-day orientation program that could be held at Rider University.
   Once the students enroll at the high school, one faculty advisor would be assigned to a group of 15 freshmen. The advisor would follow the students throughout their high school career.
   The evening school would extend the school day, from 4:30 to 9 p.m., Monday through Thursday.
   A survey of juniors and seniors showed they are interested in evening classes, Dr. Riley said.