Enrollment drivesschool plan

Monroe school board adopts $69.9 million tentative budget.

By: Joseph Harvie
   MONROE —The Board of Education adopted a $69.9 million tentative school budget Monday night that could carry a 2.96 percent hike in the school tax rate, according to School Business Administrator Wayne Holliday.
   Residents will vote on the budget at the April 19 school election.
   Board of Education President Joseph Homoki said the approved budget is tentative and may change. He said the district had to submit its spending plan to Middlesex County by Tuesday.
   Driving this year’s plan are items needed to handle an increase in student enrollment, including more school buses and money to rent 14 portable classrooms, said Mr. Holliday.
   The budget calls for a 5.14-cent increase in the school tax rate, from $1.734 per $100 of assessed valuation to $1.7854. If approved, the owner of a house assessed at the township average of $153,900 would pay $2,747.73 in school taxes, up $78.73.
   Superintendent of Schools Ralph Ferrie said the district is anticipating 350 more students for the 2005-2006 school year, 4,703 compared to the 4,353 students currently in the district.
   To handle the growth, the district expects to purchase four, 54-passenger buses and two 16-passenger vans. Mr. Holliday said the budget includes $4.2 million for transportation, $431,359 more than last year.
   The district also expects to rent 14 additional portable classrooms to be used at Barclay Brook and Brookside. There are currently 17 portable classrooms in the district — eight at Applegarth, six at Brookside and three at the high school — which cost $716,940 a year to rent. Under the proposed budget, the district would use $607,602 of its surplus to help pay for the trailers.
   Mr. Holliday said the district will go out to bid for the classrooms after elections.
   The district is budgeting $151,000 for repairs to the Mill Lake School Annex, and $453,000 for repairs to the Applegarth Middle School roof.
   The board’s debt service could be about $5.5 million and the debt service raised by taxes could be $5.29 million.
   In addition, state aid will remain flat this year. The district will receive $4.23 million in state aid for next year, including about $2.1 million in special education aid and $940,868 in transportation aid.
   Dr. Ferrie said even though the district is predicting a 5-cent increase this year, next year’s increase could be larger, because the district had to use some of its surplus to comply with a new state budget cap law passed in 2004 which lowers the maximum spending increase allowed from 6 percent to 2 percent. The law requires districts to use a portion of their surplus to provide for tax relief.
   "We were required to have a large amount of tax relief from the fund balance put into the budget this year, and next year it will not be in the budget," Dr. Ferrie said. "It will do what it is supposed to do this year but it will spike again next year."
   Mr. Homoki said the budget will be reviewed and could be revised before public hearings are held at 3 p.m. and 7 p.m. April 7 at the Richard P. Morasco Performing Arts Center in the High School.
   Last year, voters defeated a $62.8 million spending plan by a vote of 2,139 to 2,037. The proposal carried an 8.9 percent increase in school taxes.
   Mr. Homoki said there will be budget committee meetings Wednesday. The Curriculum and Athletics Committee will meet at 5:30 p.m., the Technology Committee will meet at 6:30 p.m. and the Building Grants Committee will meet at 7:30 p.m. Those interested should contact the Board of Education office at (732) 521-1500.