District looks to new budget

School district’s spending plan could be on the rise.

By: Rebecca Tokarz
   Anticipated health and pharmacy costs, student enrollment figures and approved hikes in teacher salaries may mean the district’s 2004-2005 spending plan could be on the rise, officials said.
   The district expects an additional 266 students — including 122 at the high school — to join the district in time for next year, according to school board member and Budget Committee Chairman Paul Prodromo. In addition, health costs are expected to increase 20 percent and pharmacy costs about 14 percent, he said.
   And that doesn’t take into account costs that fluctuate, including fuel or transportation, he said.
   Add those numbers together and based on last year’s ratable figures, the district is already looking at an estimated 10-cent increase based in the school tax rate, according to Dr. Prodromo’s early estimates.
   However, that could change depending on the township’s report about its ratables, he said. Ratables, or the total amount of assessed valuation in the township, are used to determine property tax rates.
   "I can see that with what we’ve got, we’re looking at about 10 cents on the tax rate," he said last week. "But our ratables have been going up each year."
   Registered township voters will have their say on the school district’s spending plan on April 20.
   The district is currently operating under a $104.32 million school spending plan; $71.88 million of that was raised through taxpayer dollars. Last year, school taxes increased by 11.7 cents per $100 of assessed valuation. The current school tax rate is $1.971 per $100 of assessed valuation. At that rate, the owner of a house assessed at the township average of $186,900 is paying $3,683 in school taxes this year.
   Dr. Prodromo has said the district is at an advantage this year because unlike the previous two years, it will not need to fund the opening and new staffing of Brooks Crossing or the new wing at the high school. He said last week that opening the high school cost between $700,000 and $800,000.
   However, a potential freeze in state aid could hurt the district, he said.
   According to Assistant Superintendent for Business Jeff Scott, the district has not seen an increase in state aid since 2001-02 school year, but the district is educating nearly 850 more students. The student population is currently at 8,320 and the district is anticipating another 266 students, he said. With the expected students, the district’s enrollment should reach about 8,586 for the 2005-06 school year, up from 7,460 in 2001-01.
   In addition, the district needs to provide for teacher salary increases resulting from the newly ratified contract, according to Dr. Prodromo. Ratified by the school board Dec. 17, the new three-year teacher contract calls for 15.67 percent salary increase over the length of the contract.
   The district also is trying to keep class sizes down, while maintaining existing programs.
   "One goal of the district is to maintain class sizes and that’s 25 at the K-5 level and 23 at the high school," said Dr. Prodromo. "One of the principles that the public has always supported is maintaining class size and that means more teachers. Class size is important."