Proposed School Budget Has 1% Tax Increase
The district is using additional state aid for tax relief and program restorations.
After reviewing the original 2012-13 budget, and with the news that the district will be receiving an additional $2 million in state aid for the coming year, Superintendent of Schools Michael Schilder presented a proposed budget Tuesday with a tax levy increase of 1 percent.
The administration has opted to put the $2 million in state aid revenue for the 2012-13 school year toward tax relief, capital reserves and student services.
According to Schilder, the district had actually underestimated its state aid appropriation by $2.3 million, which created that additional revenue in the budget.
The 2012-13 budget is currently set at $134,995,733, a 3.92 percent increase over the 2011-12 budget.
With this budget, and its 1 percent tax levy, the tax rate for Bridgewater residents will be $1.32 per $100,000 of assessed property value. This translates to an increase of $126.09 for a home assessed at the township average of $411,662.
In Raritan, residents are looking at a tax rate of $1.29 per $100,000 of assessed property value, which translates to an increase of $72.31 for a home assessed at the borough average of $320,447.
As for state aid, the district had initially assumed it would be receiving the same $6.7 million it received for the 2011-2012 school year. In addition, Schilder said, the district had $700,000 remaining from a July 2011 state appropriation of $1.3 million to the district.
“But we were not expecting that $1.3 million to be carried over into the base calculation as it was,” he said.
When the state aid was announced Feb. 22, Schilder said, the district learned that it was receiving the $6.7 million it received last year, plus an additional $1.3 million like it received in July, as well as another $1.1 million for the 2012-2013 year.
Adding that to the $700,000 carried over from July, Schilder said, meant the district actually has a total of $9.8 million in state aid for the upcoming year, with total new revenue in the budget amounting to $2,369,595.
From there, Schilder said, the district is able to use that additional revenue for the three new allocations.
But prior to the state aid announcement, Schilder said, the district was already looking to reduce the initial budget to account for a 1 percent tax levy cap.
To do that, Schilder said, the board first made a change to its recommended grades one through six World Languages program.
Instead of the full program that was previously discussed, Schilder said, the district is looking to only spend $65,000 on a curricular alignment process, which would require the hiring of just one staff member to teach World Languages at one of the intermediate schools.
“Then the students can get the hours the state is recommending for graduation,” he said.
In addition, Schilder said, the budget eliminates a proposed second resource officer at the high school for $80,000.
Schilder said he had initially recommended the extra officer because of the sheer size of the building and the campus in general.
“To have an officer at one end and one at another, I’d have a much higher comfort level in terms of safety,” he said. “Do I think it’s a safe facility, yes I do.”
But, Schilder said, in looking at similarly sized districts, he could not find evidence to support that two officers are needed in the building. Currently, the township pays for the one officer, and the district would pay for the second if it was warranted.
But at this point, that cost has been eliminated from the budget.
A few other items were tweaked, Schilder said, including eliminating election costs of $30,000 with the move to November elections, among other small items.
These figures equaled a total of $341,551 in cuts to the budget, but the district needed to reach $1,191,550 in order to reduce the tax levy to 1 percent. So, Schilder said, it is using some of the state aid revenue for tax relief, utilizing $850,000 to reduce the tax levy.
“That’s how we got from the 2 percent tax levy to 1 percent,” he said.
The next use for the new state aid funds, Schilder said, is to appropriate $729,595 for capital projects, including replacing roofs, heating systems and other facility necessities.
“We have numerous projects we could use it toward, we just haven’t figured out which ones yet,” said board of education vice president Patrick Breslin.
Finally, Schilder said, the remainder of the money is going toward student services and programs. The largest amount, $560,000, is being used to reduce class sizes by adding a possible eight teacher positions.
Schilder said this is added to the four positions already figured in to the 2012-13 budget, for a total of 12 new teachers to cover class sizes that are in the high 20s and low 30s.
Next, Schilder said, the district would like to appropriate $120,000 for Excellent Educators 4 New Jersey, a state-mandated new program to develop a different model for evaluating teachers.
“That new model involves staff development, committee work and designing assessments in areas the state does not assess like speech and physical education,” he said. “I have looked at budget spreadsheets of pilot programs in districts the size of ours, and they have spent $120,000 at a minimum.”
From there, Schilder said, the district has appropriated $40,000 to restore intramural sports at the Bridgewater-Raritan Middle School, $45,000 to restore a two-day environmental trip at the middle school and $25,000 for intervention program enhancements mostly at Adamsville Primary.
“This is all from the increased revenues we realized from the state,” he said. “I think this is an excellent plan, and it makes perfect sense to me that it would be divvied up in this way.”
“There is something for the taxpayer, something for the future with facilities and something for the students,” he added.
Although the board members said they are pleased with the plan, some expressed concern about using all of the state aid money to restore programs and people without a guarantee of getting the money again.
“I always worry about state aid, and I hate the dependency on it every year,” said board member Arvind Mathur. “Say next year we don’t get the money, we can very easily forgo tax relief and capital reserve. But we have to find $800,000 in student programs.”
Schilder said that in future budgets, the district will still go in assuming for flat state aid.
“We would never expect to get more,” he said.
And as for the hiring of 12 new teachers, Schilder said, it is not something they are planning to do right away.
“As for class size reductions, that is not something we are going to go out and do tomorrow, next week or even next month,” he said. “We will see how enrollments play out, and I have a much better idea of enrollments in late spring, so we’re going to be cautious.”
“I don’t think we should have class sizes of 15 at the elementary school,” he added. “If we need the money, we will use it, if we don’t we won’t and then it moves to surplus for next year.”
Schilder said if the additional teachers are definitely needed, he is guessing they will be at the intermediate, middle and high school levels.
Breslin said he is pleased that caution will be used in hiring.
“The idea that we’re putting things back in the budget is tremendous, my concern is the lack of confidence in getting at least part of that $2 million in the next year,” he said. “And since such a large part of our budget is for salaries, benefits and contract services, we take that and add in busing and utilities, and if we miss a part of that extra state aid next year, there is not other place to cut except people.”
“I would rather run lean than run at capacity and have to lay people off,” he added. “I’m very glad to hear there will be caution used in the use of personnel funds.”
This tentative budget will be submitted to the county superintendent as required on March 5, and a public hearing and expected adoption of the budget will be held March 27.
For more information about the budget, as well as a schedule of budget presentations at the individual schools, visit the district website.