Millstone will see school tax hike

Officials say rising tuition costs, other fixed cost increases responsible

By alison granito
Staff Writer

By alison granito
Staff Writer

JERRY WOLKOWITZ Fourth-graders Veronica Miller (l) and Julia Barlis portray immigrants during a living history presentation held recently at Millstone Elementary School.JERRY WOLKOWITZ Fourth-graders Veronica Miller (l) and Julia Barlis portray immigrants during a living history presentation held recently at Millstone Elementary School.

MILLSTONE — According to school officials, the better part of the property tax hike projected under next year’s school budget is due to an increase in the amount of tuition that the district will have to pay to send students out of the district.

School officials said that taxes are slated to go up 8 cents per $100 of assessed property value, which will take the school tax rate up to $1.50 per $100 of assessed value. Officials attributed approximately 5 cents of the increase to rising tuition costs.

According to school district Business Administrator Brian Boyle, the tax hike would push property taxes on the average home in the township up approximately $281 per year. The average assessed property value in the township is $351,750.

The total budget of $22,961,391 is supported by a tax levy of $17,977,040. In addition to property taxes paid by the community, the district is slated to receive $4,448,018 in state aid, which represents an approximate $157,000 increase from last year, Boyle said.

As for the major line items in the budget, salaries, benefits, energy costs and tuition account for 88 percent of the budget.

Salaries for district employees are projected to increase 9 percent, to $9,866,756, while costs for employee benefits are projected to spike 31 percent to $3,186,946.

However, exactly how much salaries and benefits will go up remains unknown. The district is engaged in an ongoing contract-negotiation process with the Millstone Township Education Association (MTEA), which represents the township’s teachers, bus drivers and support staff.

Boyle noted that growing enrollments have led to increased personnel needs in the district.

Utilities and energy costs are expected to go up 17.7 percent from last year, to $303,100.

Tuition that the district pays to send students out of the township’s school district will also see a significant hike next year. Overall, tuition is projected go up 10.6 percent over last year’s figure.

The vast majority of tuition costs are incurred by sending the township’s high school students to Allentown High School. According to figures released last week by Upper Freehold Regional School District, Millstone’s tuition per high school student will drop by $612.

However, since enrollment projections show 82 additional Millstone students will attend the high school next year, the total tuition Millstone pays for its high school students is expected to increase by more than $535,000.

According to school officials, the increase in tuition costs would represent approximately 5 cents of the total tax increase.

Board of Education President Linda O’Reilly said Monday that fixed costs accounted for most of the increases in the budget.

However, Boyle and O’Reilly both said that the district chose to implement some increases in items that were not fixed costs, including the amounts allocated for spending on staff development and teacher training and new math textbooks.

O’Reilly said that the district wants to focus on continuing to improve its scores on state tests, which she noted have been on the way up. She pointed to more training for the staff and new textbooks as ways to do this, particularly in math scores at the middle school level, which she said have room for improvement.

"What goes to the teachers goes to kids. We expect more development to have a very positive impact," she said.

"This budget is what is required for us to run the district next year," Boyle said.

"It’s basically maintenance," he added.

In addition to the current requirements, school officials may include an additional capital project in this year’s budget.

Boyle said that the district may overhaul the parking area and traffic flow at the middle school in order to improve safety and increase available parking space.

"When we had Back to School Night we had to run shuttles because there wasn’t enough parking," he said.

"The traffic flow at arrival and dismissal is horrible," he said. "The plan is to redesign the whole area and make it safer and less problematic than it is now."

According to Boyle, the project, which is expected to cost in the neighborhood of $600,000, can be funded through the district’s capital reserve fund and would not have an impact on the tax rate.

The district is also planning a September referendum where it is expected to ask the voters for funds to build a new middle school.

A public hearing on the budget is scheduled for March 24 at 7:30 p.m.

The budget will come up for a vote at the annual school elections on April 15.