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Home Edison Sentinel Edison News Metuchen school board seeks to exceed 2 percent spending cap

Metuchen school board seeks to exceed 2 percent spending cap

Metuchen school board seeks to exceed 2 percent spending cap
A view of the Metuchen Reformed Church on November 4.

METUCHEN — The Metuchen School District Board of Education will seek to collect more in school taxes for the upcoming school year than would otherwise be permitted by the state because of a projected enrollment increase of more than 1 percent for the 2018-19 school year.

However, although the board is seeking to collect 0.99 percent more in property taxes, which equals $248,000, and the proposed tax levy in the $38.5 million budget for 2018-19 is going up by 3 percent, there is a decrease in the budget of 0.3 percent as a result of a $30 million increase in the borough’s ratables.

“There are a lot of ratables due to all the building [in the borough],” Business Administrator Michael Harvier said.

The budget spending cap is 2 percent of the prior year’s tax levy, which was $35.2 million; however, Harvier said there are two exceptions to the cap.

One exception is health insurance, which does not apply to Metuchen this year.

“The other exception is for enrollment and the state has a complicated way of calculating projected enrollment,” Harvier said. “They come up with a calculation of projected enrollment and you compare that from the current year to the budget year, and if it is over 1 percent, you are allowed for anyone over 1 percent.”

Harvier said for the past several years, the annual enrollment increase has been less than 1 percent.

“We haven’t had any relief (from the cap on the tax levy),” he said, adding the board is seeking permission to exceed the allowed 2 percent increase in the tax levy by an additional 0.99 percent. “This year the board passed a resolution to apply to the state to get relief for all students, not just the students over 1 percent. For all students that would mean an additional $348,000 [collected from property owners for the district].”

The projected weighted enrollment as per the Department of Education calculation for the 2018-19 school year is 2,379 students, which will be an increase of 25 students from the projected weighted enrollment for the 2017-18 school year of 2,354, Harvier said.

School officials are expecting an increase in enrollment at Campbell Elementary School in the 2018-19 school year.

Board members discussed the $38.50 million budget for the 2018-19 school year during a meeting on March 27. The proposed tax levy for 2018-19 – the total amount to be paid by Metuchen’s residential and commercial property owners – is $36.24 million. The 2017-18 tax levy was $35.19 million.

There is a $30 million increase in ratables from $1 billion in 2017 to $1.35 billion this year, which includes the construction of Woodmont Metuchen, a mixed use residential and commercial development, and the construction of a Whole Foods Market.

District administrators said the school tax rate for the 2018-19 school year will be $3.721 per $100 of assessed valuation. The average home in Metuchen is assessed at $186,000 and the owner of that home will pay $6,921 in school taxes during the upcoming year. Depending on the assessed value of an individual’s property in 2018, some taxpayers will pay the same amount of school taxes as 2017-18, some may pay more and some may pay less.

The district will receive $1.3 million in state aid for 2018-19, which is an increase of $215,775 from 2017-18.

Administrators said if the state approves the collection of the additional property taxes, they will be able to budget for a district director of security; for a structured learning experience coordinator at Metuchen High School; make the counselor at Campbell Elementary School a full-time position; and add two teachers at Campbell and one full-time and one half-time special education teacher to reduce class size.

Superintendent of Schools Vincent Caputo said he discussed the position of a district director of safety a few years ago.

“I think it would be a timely position and a position that would be important to the district,” he said.

Caputo said the SLE coordinator, which is proposed to be a stipend position, is a prerequisite necessary for the district’s community-based instruction.

“Hopefully in the future the coordinator will be involved in the district’s transition program for students who are aged out of the high school, but are under our instruction,” he said.

Caputo said the district added a Campbell school counselor two years ago as a half-time position.

“It has worked out very well and I am recommending increasing the position to a full-time position,” he said.

Caputo said he is also recommending moving $90,000 from the purchase professional services line item, which the district uses to hire outside speech therapists. The funds will be used to advertise and search for a speech therapist to be employed by the district.

“That’s a zero net cost change from moving [the funds from] one part of the budget to a salary line item,” Caputo said.

The district currently has four administration staff members, three principals, three assistant principals and six supervisors. There are 198.6 certified staff members, 54 paraprofessionals and 59 non-certified staff members.

“The budget reflects the same level of paraprofessionals and the other non-certified staff,” Caputo said.

Board members said if the state denies their request to collect additional property taxes above the permitted amount, they will have to go back to the drawing board and prioritize according to the needs of the school district.

A public hearing for the 2018-19 budget is scheduled for April 24.

Contact Kathy Chang at kchang@newspapermediagroup.com.