School tab includes tax hike

The need for more teachers, an increase in faculty salaries and benefits, and higher tuition costs for Princeton High School are considered in the Cranbury Board of Education’s proposed budget.

By: Jessica Beym
   The need for more teachers, an increase in faculty salaries and benefits, and higher tuition costs for Princeton High School could mean that taxpayers will be paying more for schools in 2006-2007.
   The Board of Education on Tuesday presented an outline of the $14.7 million proposed spending plan. School Business Administrator Brian DeLucia said Wednesday the final budget will not be sent to the state until after the public hearing scheduled for March 28.
   Under the preliminary plan, the school tax rate is expected to increase 7.72 cents, from $2.182 per $100 of assessed valuation to $2.259 for the 2006-2007 school year. If approved by the board in March and by voters during the April 18 school election, the owner of a house assessed at the township average of $225,000 would pay $5,082.75, $173.25 more than under the current school budget.
   Despite major spending increases for salaries, employee benefits, transportation and outside tuition, the proposed budget is one-tenth of 1 percent — or $15,799 — larger than the 2005-2006 spending plan. The district decreased spending for capital projects for 2006-2007 by $1.3 million.
   In the current year’s budget, the township set aside $1.6 million for capital projects, including $1.2 million to renovate the heating, ventilation and air-conditioning system in sections of the building that were built in 1949 and 1957.
   In 2004-2005, the district set aside $200,000 for the HVAC project as well. The total cost of the HVAC renovation project was $1.43 million and was offset during the current year by a $562,000 grant from the state Department of Education and $450,00 in surplus used.
   In the proposed spending plan for 2006-2007, the district plans to set aside $307,500 for a new roof over the auditorium in addition to other smaller projects.
   The largest spending increase will be for salaries, wages and employee benefits, which make up 52 percent of the total budget. The total cost of salaries and wages will be $5.7 million, an increase of $458,427. Employee benefits will cost $1.8 million, an increase of $362,256. Mr. DeLucia said the increases are due to five additional faculty members and 5 percent salary increases through teacher contracts.
   Chief School Administrator Carol Malouf said Tuesday that the need for additional teachers is due to an increase in class sizes. Based on the current enrollment, the Cranbury School expects total enrollment to increase next year by five students, to 656.
   To meet the needs of an expected 78 fifth-graders, the district will hire an additional fifth-grade teacher and will pay extra for music, art and other special area teachers to teach additional classes. Next year the school will also hire an additional English teacher for grades 6 through 8, a full time special education teacher, a part time speech teacher and a part time physical education teacher.
   The cost of tuition for Princeton High School will increase from $14,044 per student to about $15,000. The spending plan includes $3.46 million for tuition for 256 Princeton High School students. In the 2005-2006 budget, $3.34 million was spent on tuition for 241 high school students.
   "We should have the exact amount at the next meeting," Mr. DeLucia said. "We’ve budgeted $15,000 and Princeton said that it’s appropriate."
   For tuition for special education students who attend private schools, the district plans to spend $980,240, which is $118,220 more than in 2005-2006. Currently, there are eight students with special education needs who attend private schools and Mr. DeLucia said the school knows of an additional two students who will also need to attend.
   Mr. DeLucia said the school’s bussing contract with Laidlaw ended this year and the company decided not to renew the contract for the same price. The district will begin taking bids for a new contract in March or April, he said.
   Mr. DeLucia said that with increased fuel costs, the district decided to budget $637,160 for busing, an increase of $169,560.
   Mr. DeLucia said the district received $629,000 in state aid for the past four years and is hoping to receive the same amount this year. But the district won’t know until Gov. Jon Corzine gives the state budget address, which — according to a spokesperson from the New Jersey School Boards Association — may not be until March 21.