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Princeton School Board Approves Tentative Budget That Includes $1.7 Million Tax Levy Increase

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.

Krystal Knapp

Krystal Knapp is the founding editor of Planet Princeton. She can be reached via email at editor AT planetprinceton.com. Send all letters to the editor and press releases to that email address.

  • Rob Dodge

    I believe it is also important to look beyond just SAT scores for example when thinking about “outcomes” . Consider, for example, the recent success of Princeton Girls Swimming (NJ finals PublicB), JWMS Mathletes (1st in State), Studio Band (ranked #1 in State), Princeton Debate (2nd in State), Latin Club (1st in State) and PHS students awarded 6 out the 9 available Foreign Language Scholarships in FLENJ State competition…

  • reality check

    You really think those small differences in demographics require a 50% greater budget at Princeton public schools? The outcomes at Montgomery and WW-P schools are on a par with Princeton, despite spending thousands of dollars less per student each year. This suggests that Princeton is not getting much benefit from its much higher faculty compensation. People have to understand that high taxes are the price of demanding the very best in our schools.

  • Julia

    You cannot compare costs without looking at the different populations that these districts serve.

    WWP and Montgomery have much lower percentages of Free and Reduced Lunch, Limited English Proficient, and special needs students than Princeton. It takes much more funding to educate these students and the State of NJ has not provided its legally mandated share for more than five years.

    John Witherspoon Middle School

    Free/Reduced Lunch 9.5%
    Limited English Proficient 2.5%
    Special Needs 12.2%

    WWP Middle Schools

    Free/Reduced Lunch 4.7%
    Limited English Proficient 0.2% and 2.1%
    Special Needs 10.6% and 7.5%

    Montgomery Lower Middle School

    Free/Reduced Lunch 5.1%
    Limited English Proficient 0.5%
    Special Needs 10.8%

    Research is also clear that more experienced teachers are more effective. We have excellent public schools because we have great students, teachers and administrators. It is a team effort and replacing those great teachers with less experienced and expensive ones for the sake of saving money is short sighted. If our schools decline, your property values also will drop.

  • reality check

    Princeton schools are expensive because we have a lot of very highly-paid teachers. Until we restructure the faculty, with a greater proportion of staff on lower salary points, then we can expect the Board to deliver more and more tax increases to local residents. Something to think about, especially with the current teacher pay dispute. Princeton schools spend 50% more per student than districts in Montgomery or WW-Plainsboro, and that additional cost goes straight onto property taxes.

  • outoftouch

    “people driving cars that are seven years old”

    It may be hard to believe, but there are people in Princeton that having bigger financial problems than this!

  • Community Conscience

    (now known as SDA Districts)

  • Community Conscience

    Thanks to the Abbott Districts created by Abbott vs. Burke we’re paying for Trenton too.

  • Cooper11

    Ms. Brooks is right, but doesn’t go far enough. We should lower school taxes until parity with Trenton is acheived.

  • premise?

    Who ever said the premise of consolidation was that it was going to reduce costs/taxes? The report circulated by the group that promoted consolidation didn’t even show more than equivocal and minimal savings, and such savings were only from initial personnel “consolidation”.

  • Community Conscience

    And why was the school district consolidated? Oh right – to save costs and reduce taxes. Now, we see taxes going up and up and up despite that in a time of actual deflation. Don’t worry, the municipality has big tax plans too.

  • JustSaying

    Over the last three years, as seen by a taxpayer, Princeton municipal taxes have fallen by 1% on average (if you were in the Borough), school district taxes have risen by 1.5%, and Mercer county taxes have risen by 7% each year, on average.

  • Brett Borowski

    The school district was “consolidated” a long time ago; I don’t see how Princeton’s school taxes are pertinent to the municipal consolidation.

  • Community Conscience

    The promise of Consolidation in Princeton was that it was going to reduce taxes. We should all think about who should be held accountable for the fact that taxes are now headed up.

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