UFRSD proposes $32.9M budget for next year

Estimated tax increase of $110 does not include debt service

Staff Writer

The Upper Freehold Regional School District’s proposed budget relies on increasing taxes and fees as well as reducing staff and privatizing busing.

The Board of Education unanimously voted on March 2 to introduce a $32.9 million budget for the 2011-12 school year. A public hearing on the budget will take place at 7 p.m. on March 23 in the Allentown High School choral room. The proposed spending plan totals $450,517 more than the 2010- 11 budget and relies on collecting $18.4 million fromAllentown and Upper Freehold taxpayers.

The school district did not have up-todate net valuations or average assessments from Allentown or Upper Freehold, so it used figures from last year to estimate the tax impact of the budget. The tax impact information will be revised when the towns provide the updated information. Using last year’s figures, the district estimated a tax increase of $109.66 for a home assessed at $153,400 in Allentown and a $109.80 increase for a home assessed at $492,900 in Upper Freehold. While this 2 percent increase in the tax levy will be put to a vote during the school election if the board adopts it onMarch 23, the tax levy increase to cover the district’s debt service will not.

Using last year’s figures, the district estimated the average Allentown household having to pay $94.50 and the average Upper Freehold household having to pay $136.25 for debt service during the 2011-12 school year. This means the average Allentown household’s tax bill will increase an estimated $204.16 and the average Upper Freehold household’s tax bill will increase an estimated $246.05 if voters approve the proposed tax levy increase at the polls. The district has proposed raising the tax levy 2 percent, which is the highest percentage increase the state will allow. Increased costs and decreased revenue in several areas resulted in the district having to make $1.3 million worth of reductions in services and staff to achieve the 2 percent cap.

The district plans to privatize busing to save $275,000; make staff reductions totaling $236,618; eliminate new leases for technology and equipment to save $111,908; reduce spending on custodial supplies by $24,774; reduce architectural and legal costs to save $17,000; and eliminate the purchase of new textbooks to save $9,849. The district plans to sell its property no longer in use in Imlaystown, which is expected to save over $11,000 in utility costs. The district also expects to reduce utility costs by moving the board offices from the trailers in the middle of the High Street campus to an unused portion of the second floor in the elementary school.

The proposed budget also relies on charging students more for various services. In an effort to bring the fees charged for certain services closer to the amount the district spends on these services, the district has proposed increasing the kindergarten complement program fee by $900; the subscription busing fee by $25; the middle school activity fee by $10; and the high school activity fee by $20. The district will also start charging a $5 per-hour fee for credit completion for high school students.

The proposed budget relies on just over $4 million in state aid, which is $341,208 more than it received last year. The district also expects to receive $42,500 more in extraordinary aid than it did last year, for a total of $110,000. The district also applied $176,933 in American Recovery and Reinvestment Act aid and $350,000 in surplus to the 2011-12 budget.

The district could end up with more revenue than anticipated next school year, depending on how much money it collects from the sale of its Imlaystown property and school bus fleet. According to Superintendent of Schools Dick Fitzpatrick, the district has been conservative in believing that it can sell the property for $200,000 and the fleet for $211,830. He said estimates have come in higher for both, but the district does not know what to expect from the market and did not want to overestimate the amount of revenue it could garner from either sale.

Business Administrator Diana Schiraldi said it was a challenge for the district to meet the 2 percent tax levy increase cap this year, and that the property and bus sales are one-time revenue sources that the district will not be able to depend on to meet the challenge of creating the next school budget.

The staff reductions will affect three administrators, instruction and support staff, paraprofessionals, classroom teachers and bus drivers, according to Fitzpatrick. He said the district is not proud of the reductions it has to make for the proposed budget.

“So many faithful employees will be affected, and we are not insensitive to the impact on our people,” Fitzpatrick said.

He added, “If I win the lottery, I promise you it will all go to you folks.”

Board of Education President Lisa Herzer said the board also realizes the impact the proposed budget will have on staff.

“We don’t take any of this lightly at all,” she said.

A group of bus drivers attended the board meeting to protest the privatization of the district’s busing. Drivers argued that selling the buses and terminating drivers is a one-time budget fix. They pointed out that the district privatized custodial services years ago only to rehire its own custodians after realizing privatization was not cost effective. Drivers also argued that the district might not be able to afford to buy new buses or to rehire drivers if privatization gets too costly in the future.

When resident Patrick Nolan asked how much money the district would save if staff paid 1.5 percent of their health benefit costs, Schiraldi said $296,000. Schiraldi also said the contracted salary increase of 2.95 percent totals $487,000 in the budget. The district has budgeted about $400,000 to pay for the salary increase teachers agreed to postpone during last year’s budgeting process.