Urge tax reform

Urge tax reform

It is again the time of year when local taxpayers learn how much more could come out of their pockets to fund the local school system.

This year, most local school districts in our coverage area will see double-digit tax increases if voters give the proposed tax levies the OK at the polls in April.

Locally, Woodbridge leads the pack with a 15-cent increase per $100 of assessed property value, which would translate to $112 more in taxes per year for the average homeowner. Edison’s proposed 11-cent hike would mean another $189 for the average homeowner, while the approximate 11.6-cent increase in Metuchen would cause the average tax bill to rise $213.

The double-digit hikes come despite the fact that all three districts spent less than the state average over the past three years. When it comes to the total cost per pupil, the Edison, Metuchen and Woodbridge school systems have all kept their total cost per pupil below the 2002-03 state average of $11,313. Last year, Edison spent $10,930 per pupil, while Woodbridge spent $10,350 and Metuchen $10,831, according to the state Department of Education’s 2002-03 New Jersey School Report Card.

In 2002-03 the average district received 49 percent of its funding at the local level, according to the Report Card. In Woodbridge, 84 percent of the school budget is funded at the local level. In Edison, 88 percent of the budget is funded at the local level, while Metuchen derives 89 percent of its funding locally.

In recent years, the state has made a practice of holding aid to the school districts flat. This year, local districts will see a 3-percent increase in aid.

All three school districts face tougher federal and state mandates, which require them to spend more on staff to help them meet the goals set out in programs such as the federal No Child Left Behind Act and rising fixed costs — like insurance — which the districts have no choice but to pay.

However, state and federal funding has not keep pace with the changes. So, the districts have passed the costs on to the local level, causing property taxes to spike.

The system by which schools are funded in New Jersey is broken and must be fixed. However, state officials have consistently ducked the issue of real property-tax reform. Any real reform needs to start at the state level before it can filter down to the municipalities and the school districts.

Before they hit the polls in April, voters should write a letter to their state legislators and the governor and urge them to move real property-tax reform to the top of the agenda.