Council reviews school budget

JAMESBURG- Plan was presented at Borough Council meeting

By: Al Wicklund
   JAMESBURG — The Borough Council could arrive at a decision on the defeated school budget by May 8, Mayor Tony LaMantia said Wednesday.
   The budget was defeated by a 164-111 vote in the April 16 school election.
   State law requires that defeated school budgets be reviewed by the municipal governing body, which may cut the budget, leave it unchanged or even increase it.
   The mayor gave his estimate of a decision date after Board of Education President Donald Peterson made a presentation about the board’s $9.5 million budget at the Borough Council meeting. The proposed 2002-2003 budget is $992,346 more than this year’s.
   The board’s budget would require a 39.6-cent tax rate increase to $2.296 per $100 of assessed valuation, boosting annual taxes by $483 for the owner of a house assessed at the borough average of $122,000.
   If the Board of Education believes a council cut of the board budget would be damaging to the children’s education, it may appeal the council’s reduction of the budget to the state commissioner of education.
   The council’s finance committee — Chairman Sam Cline, Otto Kostbar and Joe Jennings — will meet with the board Thursday to discuss the budget and then make a recommendation for action to the council.
   The mayor said that while May 8 is the council’s goal for a decision, the council has until May 20 to act.
   Mr. Peterson told the council he believed the board had done a thorough job in preparing the budget and that the increases were driven by fixed costs, such as contractual agreements and state-mandated programs, including programs such as English as a second language and special education for handicapped children.
   "As you look at our budget, you’ll see that 36 cents of the 39-cent increase in the tax rate is out of the board’s control," he said.
   Mr. Peterson gave council members a breakdown of the education budget that showed the largest increase is the fixed cost for tuition.
   He said the $660,934 increase, to $3.5 million, for high school students at Monroe Township High School plus special education students who have to leave the district for their programs represents 28 cents of the tax rate increase and 37 percent of the total budget increase.
   The next largest increase is in the in-class instruction category, he said, with some $30,000 more budgeted for teacher salaries, classroom aides, textbooks and classroom supplies for students in kindergarten through eighth grade. The total cost for 2002-2003 is $1.5 million.
   The school board president said a freeze in state aid resulted in the school district receiving $130,000 less than what was expected.
   Mr. Peterson also had a warning in his message.
   He said the 2002-2003 budget is not affected by Monroe Township’s planned referendum later this year for construction of a new high school, estimated to have an $85 million price tag.
   "We did not budget for this because it’s not yet a realized expense," he said.
   But, Mr. Peterson said, Jamesburg would be responsible for 20 percent of the interest on any bonding plan approved by Monroe voters, which could mean a future expense of $63,750 in first-year interest.