School budget axed by $400K

Tax rates will decrease for three sending districts

By:Vanessa S. Holt
   BORDENTOWN TOWNSHIP — The school board voted to accept a $400,000 budget cut recommended by representatives of the three sending districts to the Bordentown Regional School District.
   The $23.2 million general fund was rejected by voters last month by a margin of 39 votes.
   At a joint meeting on May 15, school board officials said the spending cuts mean the school tax rate will decrease between 2 and 2.5 cents in the district’s three sending communities. The cuts were made in a variety of accounts, including transportation, salaries and insurance.
   Bordentown Township Mayor Mark Roselli, Township Committeewoman Carol de Groot and Deputy Mayor George Chidley; Bordentown City Mayor Bill Collom and Deputy Mayor James Lynch; and Fieldsboro Borough Mayor Ed Tyler represented their respective municipalities at the joint session to negotiate possible changes to the budget.
   Both Bordentown City and Fieldsboro voters had approved the budget in the April 16 election.
   Superintendent John Polomano told officials at the gathering that he believed the idea of funding schools through property taxes is "inequitable" and "cannot continue" because of the burden it places on residents.
   However, he noted that it currently is the only way for schools to raise all of the money they need, particularly in light of the recent freeze in state aid.
   Mr. Polomano requested that the municipalities agree to keep the proposed school budget intact to enable the schools to keep their current programs.
   Mayor Roselli said he felt obligated to support his township’s decision to vote down the budget by suggesting several cuts.
   He requested between $450,000 to $500,000 in cuts and suggested that the board eliminate funds allocated for a new bus and several new administrative positions.
   "We think it can be done without affecting the programs," said Mayor Roselli.
   Mayor Tyler, representing the district’s smallest municipality, said he felt between $300,000 and $400,000 could be trimmed from the budget, but left the specific areas up to the school board.
   "You’re running the school," said Mayor Tyler.
   Mayor Collom, representing Bordentown City, which also approved the budget last month, said cuts would "gladly be accepted," but did not specify an amount.
   "You know best the areas which could be cut," he said. "I find it difficult to recommend an amount."
   The school board convened to a classroom for 30 minutes to discuss the proposed cuts and returned with a recommendation of $300,000 in adjustments.
   The proposal was rejected by Mayor Roselli and the six municipal representatives left the room to come up with a figure.
   Their suggestion, $400,000, was accepted by the school board after another private discussion.
   The six municipal officials voted unanimously to approve the suggested $400,000 cut, which in turn was accepted by the school board by a 5-3 vote, with one member abstaining.
   Pauline Glenn, representing Fieldsboro on the board, abstained because she had not been on the board during the development of the budget, said board secretary Peggy Ianoale.
   Board member Dr. Gerald Nicholls said he voted against the cut, in part, because it could affect the surplus and because he felt the narrow defeat of the budget did not represent a clear majority of the people.
   "We cut $1.5 million from the budget before we took it to voters," said Joann Dansbury of Bordentown City, who also voted against the cut. "I don’t think we had a mandate; the city voted for it."
   "We didn’t get the public out to vote," said board member Christine Trogdon of Bordentown Township referring to low voter turnout in this year’s election. "We should have educated the voters more."
   The school board determined that $400,075 could be cut from the budget, resulting in cuts ranging from 2 cents to 2.5 in the proposed tax rate in the three municipalities.
   In Bordentown Township the tax rate dropped from a proposed $2.07 per $100 of assessed property value to $2.046, meaning that the owner of a home assessed at the township average, $132,133, will pay $2,703 in school taxes.
   In Bordentown City, the revised tax rate dropped from the proposed $2.07 to $2.045 per $100 of assessed property value. The owner of a home value at the city average, $101,361, will pay $2,072 in school taxes.
   In Fieldsboro, the tax rate will be $2.05, a two-cent drop from the originally proposed $2.07 tax rate. The owner of a home valued at the borough average, $86,628, will pay $1,775 in school taxes.
   Ms. Ianoale said several teaching salary lines in the budget were reduced because of retirement notices received after the budget was developed.
   The district also learned it would receive up to $47,000 through "e-rate" funding, federal funds which are available to schools and libraries for technology-related expenditures.
   The board decided also to cut two new transportation drivers and two new transportation aides, a total of $73,510, although they could be put back in the budget in September if additional special education students come into the district and drivers are needed.
   They would be funded from the district’s "very low surplus" if that happens, said Ms. Ianoale.
   Several cuts were made in health benefits and insurance because the school board received late notification that increases were not going to be as much as expected, said Ms. Ianoale.
   Two trailers the district had budgeted for, for additional office space, also were deemed unnecessary.
   The tax rate for school districts in the state must be struck by May 20.