The school board for the Princeton Public Schools voted unanimously Tuesday night to approve a tentative budget for the 2015-16 academic year that includes a tax levy increase of $1.7 million.
Under the proposed budget, the tax levy would increase from $71,629,433 to $ 73,339,567, an increase of 2.4 percent.
The owner of a home assessed at the town average of $796,000 would pay $8,512 in school taxes for 2015-16, an increase of $178.
The estimated tax rate would be just under $1.o7 per $100 of assessed property value, an increase of 2.2 cents per $100 over the rate for 2014-15.
The operating budget for the school district under the proposed budget would increase from $79,519,884 to $81,472,092, an increase of just under $2 million. The operating budget does not include state and federal aid and some other items.
School Board Member Patrick Sullivan said he and other board members are mindful that many people in Princeton face financial pressures. “Many are on fixed incomes — there are people living on alimony payments, people receiving aid, people driving cars that are seven years old, people with jobs with fixed compensation, many people like that,” he said. “Raising taxes is not something we do lightly.”
Budget cuts would be difficult to make without cutting staff, Sulllivan said. “No one wants to do that,” he said.
School Board Member Tom Hagedorn said he is very concerned about the 2 percent cap on the school tax levy in New Jersey.
“It’s too low. Massachusetts has a 2.5 percent cap and is having problems. There are going to be longterm problems in New Jersey,” Hagadorn said.
School board members voted to exceed the two-percent cap on the tax levy, approving two waivers allowed by the state. The district is eligible for one waiver for increased health insurance costs, and another waiver for rising student enrollment.
The health benefits waiver is $413,110 and the rising enrollment waiver is $1.7 million.
Any money that is not used from the rising enrollment waiver funds could be banked and used later, school officials said.
Princeton High School’s enrollment is expected to increase by about 60 students for the upcoming academic year, and the increase in the district overall is expected to be about 100 students. Previously a consultant estimated that the district would not see much of an increase in enrollment next year. “We told him his number were too low, and we had him to it again. He came back with higher numbers,” Spalla said.
Resident Zoe Brooks questioned whether the budget should increase beyond the cap. “When you continue to raise taxes you increase the disparity between Princeton and other places like Trenton,” she said.
Spalla was surprised when there was very little public comment about the budget.
“I can’t believe there aren’t more comments,” she said. “The budget is the biggest thing this board does.”
The budget hearing is scheduled for April 28.