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School budget expected to carry tax hike

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By Matthew Sockol

MILLSTONE – The Millstone Township K-8 School District Board of Education expects to introduce the 2016-17 budget at its meeting on March 21.

A public hearing on the budget is expected to take place at the board’s April 25 meeting, to be followed by the board’s adoption of the spending plan.

During the board’s March 7 meeting, district administrators said the upcoming year’s budget, which will run from July 1, 2016 through June 30, 2017, and fund the operation of the school district, will feature the first tax increase in five years.

Administrators said the owner of a home assessed at the township average of $530,000 will see an increase of about $156 in the school tax portion of his property tax bill. The increase is a combination of additional spending in the general fund and in debt service, according to district officials.

The 2016-17 budget is not expected to fund an increase from a half-day kindergarten program to a full-day kindergarten program. Under the district’s current set-up, kindergarten pupils attend the Millstone Township Primary School from 9:05-11:45 a.m. or from 1:05-3:45 p.m. Administrators indicated that the cost to switch from a half-day program to a full-day program would be about $250,000.

Superintendent of Schools Scott Feder asked the board members to discuss the issue.

Board member John Sico suggested that moving to a full-day program was the right thing to do and noted the success that full-day kindergarten has had in other school districts.

Other members, including Billy Hanson, said full-day kindergarten was right for Millstone, but did not believe it could be accomplished for 2016-17. With a tax increase already anticipated for the upcoming school year, the board members said they were concerned about adding more costs to the budget.

In a straw poll, board members voted 6-2 against including full-day kindergarten in the 2016-17 budget. Sico and Amy Jacobson voted to move to full-day kindergarten immediately, while Hanson, Cynthia Bailey, David DePinho, Kevin McGovern, Melissa Riviello and Vice President Margaret Gordon voted not to make the move right now.

Board members indicated they would be open to moving to a full-day kindergarten for the 2017-18 school year when the district’s debt service payment is not expected to increase.

During the meeting it was announced that board member John Saxton, who was serving as the panel’s president for 2016, has resigned due to medical reasons.

“He has helped improved this district tremendously,” Gordon said.

A new president is expected to be selected at the board’s March 21 meeting. The district will advertise for candidates to fill Saxton’s seat on the board.

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