Budget would increase avg. school tax by $73

Second question on ballot calls for added security at schools


Staff Writer

The Old Bridge school tax rate would increase by 5.1 cents under a proposed $112.7 million general fund budget for 2005-06.

The budget allows for the hiring of two new elementary school teachers and four special education paraprofessional aides, as well as upgrading technology for district schools, and providing for the purchase and replacement of buses and vans.

The Board of Education unanimously adopted the budget Tuesday night. Board member Gail Kubicke was not at the meeting, but sent a statement to be read describing her support of the budget.

The school tax rate would rise 5.1 cents to nearly $2.23 per $100 of assessed valuation, up from $2.18 in 2004-05. The owner of a home assessed at the township average of $144,000 would pay about $73 more in school taxes to support the budget.

According to Dr. R. Gregory Quirk, the district’s assistant superintendent for business, the increase is because of continued rising costs in the schools and no increase in state aid.

Sixty-six percent of the $112,711,154 general fund budget would be used for classroom instruction and student support services, school officials said.

“We’ve looked at other districts,” Quirk said. “We know that this is a very high percentage.”

The budget supports curriculum initiatives, including the Rigby Language Arts Literacy program, and provides for staff training programs, Quirk noted.

“There are several capital projects that are in this budget,” he said. “We have not had capital projects for several years.”

Those projects include replacing the gym floor at Old Bridge High School East, which will next year house the 10th, 11th and 12th grades, he said.

“During this school year, the transportation staff … was able to reduce the ’04-05 current year budget by almost $1 million … by doing more effective transportation routing,” Quirk said.

That $1 million savings makes the newly proposed budget leaner.

Former board member Frank Weber, who as a citizen sits on the board’s finance committee, said the reduction in transportation costs came about after the board authorized an audit of the transportation department at his request.

The general fund, Quirk explained, is the budget that will go before voters during the April 19 school board elections. Residents vote on the tax levy to support the general fund. Funds also come in from state and federal sources to pay the total cost of the budget, he noted.

Adding special revenue funds and debt service, or long-term debt stemming from the referendum for school construction, brings the total budget to $119,568,349.

The total tax increase, including debt service, is 5.5 cents per $100 of assessed valuation, a hike of slightly more than $79 per year for the average homeowner.

A second question will be on the ballot on April 19 regarding secondary-level school security.

The board will seek approval to raise an additional $709,000 for the purchase installation of a digital security system at the high school buildings, and at the entryways of Jonas Salk and Carl Sandburg middle schools. The additional levy would provide for the salaries and benefits of five field security officers and two security staff members to monitor the system.

Currently, the township provides school resource officers to the district at no charge to the board. This proposal would add two additional officers at both high school buildings and one at Sandburg, Quirk said.

If the second question is adopted, it would bring a 1.1-cent increase, or an additional $15.63 per year for the average homeowner, Quirk said.

Board member Albert DiRocco said the security system stems from comments made by parents — in response to a series of bomb threats at the schools earlier this school year — that the board did not care about district children.

“We promised the people at that time that we would look into a security system and present it when it came time for the budget,” DiRocco said.

“This is the perfect, ideal situation for our school district,” he said of the security system. “If we can prevent one child from being injured … that’s why we need this.”

The budget and the second question will be voted on separately April 19.

The budget was worked on by the board finance committee for months, officials said. Officials went through it line by line, cutting approximately $2.3 million from the general fund tax levy, Quirk said.

“The last time I worked for nine months on something like this, it was a boy,” said board member Joan M. George, chairwoman of the finance committee.

“This is perhaps the most rigorous budget process that I have ever gone through in my 38 years in here Old Bridge,” said Superintendent of Schools Nicole Okun.

The budget, board President Annette Hopman said, does not cut any services for district children. That, she said, was the most important goal.

The school election will be held April 19 from 2 to 9 p.m.