PRINCETON: Increased school spending will likely mean a tax increase


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By Philip Sean Curran, Staff Writer
Spending in the Princeton School district in the next fiscal year is forecast to grow by $1 million and require a tax hike, according to a draft budget totaling $91.4 million.
At the average assessed home value of $810,191, the increase would be $215.12, based on figures the district released this week.
During a budget workshop March 1, school board members and administrators spent two hours going over the spending plan, one that calls for the district to use two waivers — for enrollment growth and rises in health insurance costs — to grow the tax levy beyond the 2 percent cap to 3.69 percent. In all, the tax levy will be $76.1 million.
In her remarks, district business administrator Stephanie Kennedy touched on the major increases including $896,565 more in health benefits and $696,564 more in salaries. Some 70 percent of the budget is for staffing in salaries and benefits, as officials “count nickels and dimes“ in presenting a balanced budget, in Superintendent of Schools Stephen C. Cochrane’s words.
The spending plan does not include $1.6 million in staffing and other requests from district administrators, although officials have not ruled out the possibility of funding some of them if money become available. For example, there was a request to hire a wellness coach for $60,000. There is also a $20,000 request for a “student trip equity fund“ to enable students to go on class trips if they cannot afford it.
“I just need to get more information and talk to the administrators about how best to use this funding,“ Mr. Cochrane said.
In terms of next steps, the board will consider a tentative budget at its meeting March 15, with the state then needing to review it. Assuming the state approves, the board would be on track to approve the budget April 26.
In creating a spending plan, Mr. Cochrane touched on the need to consider the “long-range implications.”
“So we’re looking at a budget for a single year,” he said, “but we’re trying to think through the impact of our decisions over multiple years.”
For instance, he said district administrators are interested in continuing to enhance teachers’ expertise in a “more personalized” approach to educating students, a concept known in the educational community as differentiated instruction. In doing so, he said that could, over time, could lead to fewer students classified as special education, thus reducing costs in that part of the budget. That part of the budget is projected to be at $6.7 million for the next school year.

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