BY KATHY CHANG
METUCHEN — Board of Education members commended the school administration on its transparency and thorough work putting together the 2016-17 budget.
In a unanimous vote, the board approved the $36 million budget that maintains programs and provides necessary upgrades to facilities at a meeting on April 26.
The budget carries a $34.21 million tax levy, up from last year’s $32.83 million tax levy.
The school tax rate increases 2.4 percent from $3.59 to $3.675 per $100 of assessed valuation.
The owner of a home assessed at the township average of $186,600 would pay approximately $6,859 in school taxes this year — up $159 from last year’s total of $6,700.
Schools Superintendent Vincent Caputo highlighted various programs and successes at each school that would not have been possible without being included in last year’s budget.
“The 2016-17 budget allows the district to maintain all current programs,” he said.
Included in the budget are 30 curriculum revisions and six curriculum maps for new courses; Plato subscription grades 5 to 8 and Algebra I, II and Geometry; local support for Metuchen Teacher Leaders of Authentic Student Engaging Curriculum and Instruction and numerous professional development areas.
The budget includes power backup upgrades at all schools, firewall redundancy, 54 new computers as part of the computer replacement plan, Windows 10 upgrades in labs and classrooms and wiring projects at various schools.
Funds are in the budget for a partial roof replacement, sidewalk repairs and carpeting at Campbell Elementary School; replacement of intercom system, tile, carpet and repoint brick at Edgar Middle School; and the refurbishing of the Metuchen High School track, repoint brick, carpet and convert an office into a classroom at the high school.
Caputo said the district continues to be proactive in maintenance of all district buildings and athletic fields.
The budget maintains all middle and high school athletic teams and co-curricular activities; replaces uniforms for six high school athletic teams and three middle school teams, and continues the Victory Road program, which is a leadership program that was piloted this year.
Harvier said the biggest drivers of the budget include salaries, employee benefits, out of district special education, transportation and instructional supplies and equipment that amount to $30 million of the $36 million budget appropriations.
He said Metuchen ratables continue to increase from $980 million last year to $992 this year, which he said is a good thing in the sense that the tax burden is distributed among more ratable property.
The district received approximately $1.1 million in state aid, an increase of $40,000 last year.
Harvier said despite the increase in aid, they have never received the amount of what they should have gotten according to the state aid formula.
The district was able to refinance 1998 bonds with average savings of $81,000 for the next 10 years; and continues to enter transportation jointures with other school districts and out-of-district special education placements, and participates with the Middlesex County Regional Educational Services Commission for mandated services to non-public schools.
The district also participates in the federal E-rate program, which gives the district back money for certain technology purposes averaging $50,000 a year; is part of a natural gas and electricity consortium with other high volume users; purchases gasoline through the borough; has cooperative purchasing with other school districts, and obtained a $150,000 grant to install a small natural gas generator that can provide emergency power to Metuchen High School.
Board member Ben Small said the district continues to run a very tight ship. Board member Justin Manley said tax payers should feel confident of a job well done by the school administration on the 2016-17 budget.
Board President Jonathan Lifton said the board and the administration took into account the taxpayers and the hardship of funding the schools.