Average home would see taxes rise $189 under proposed budget

School officials say state aid has not kept pace with rising costs

Staff Writer

Staff Writer

Placing the blame on state aid that does not keep pace with rising costs and state education mandates, Edison school officials are asking taxpayers to dig a little deeper into their pockets to give students what they need for the coming year.

The total 2004-05 school budget of $166,606,925 was introduced at Thursday’s Board of Education caucus meeting. The budget represents a rise of $7,628,284 from last year’s spending plan of $158,978,641. Of the $166.6 million budget, $144,765,536 is to be raised by taxes.

"That is the portion that is actually on the ballot" Superintendent Vincent J. Capraro said. "What it amounts to is an 11 cent per $100 of assessed property valuation increase, or $189 more a year for property assessed at $172,000."

Should voters approve this budget at the polls in April, the total school tax rate will rise from $1.89 per $100 of assessed property value to $2.

After adding staff, a full-day kindergarten, as well as supplies and materials at a cost of $2 million last year, Capraro called this year’s hike in taxes "a decrease for us, in essence."

"Last year the increase was 13 cents per $100. So, the increase is 2 cents less than last year’s [increase]. Considering the expenses we have and the state aid not coinciding with rising costs, the increase is unavoidable."

State aid comprises $14,447,732 of the total budget. That number is up $411,000 from last year.

While officials said they are thankful for that much, "the budget always goes up and state aid does not," district Business Administrator Daniel M. Chaud said.

"For instance, teacher increases are contracted at 2- percent increments each year for three years, or 6 percent. When the union contract was first settled in 2002, we thought the change in state aid would reflect that. We were thinking, at the time we would get more funding each year. It has basically remained level and this year’s increase is something, but just not what we expected when we had to commit to the expenses."

A $7 million capital outlay program is also reflected in the overall budget, though not reflected in this year’s hike, Chaud said. The expenses included roof­ing projects, window and door mainte­nance and various other necessary maintenance work.

Health insurance costs were an es­sential evil that played a large part in the tax spike, Chaud said. Benefits costs to the district rose 12.5 percent, from $15,878,000 last year to $17,862,000 this year. Liability insurance also went up by 14.5 percent this year.

Another unavoidable increase was seen in out of district placement for spe­cial education students to private schools with the proper facilities for the disabled. Those costs rose from $7,955,000 to $8,736,000.

There are 1,827 staff members in the district, down from last year’s figure of 1,832. Six paraprofessional positions, or aides, were cut last year, so this year, the district can afford to add only one half of a teacher, Chaud said.

"We have to struggle with the tax rate, but we also have to do the best we can to provide quality education with what we have," he added. "Unfortunately, until state aid keeps pace, we have to ask tax­payers to subsidize for necessary in­creases that are not covered."

The public hearing on the budget will be held on March 26 at 7 p.m at the Edu­cation Center.