HomeLawrence LedgerLawrence Ledger NewsLawrence's tentative school budget approved

Lawrence’s tentative school budget approved

The Lawrence Township Public Schools Board of Education approved the school district’s tentative operating budget of $76 million for 2019-2020 at its March 13 meeting.

The budget, which must be reviewed by the Executive County Superintendent of Schools, increased by $3.8 million over the 2018-2019 budget of $72.2 million. A public hearing and final action on the spending plan is set for the board’s May 1 meeting.

The tentative budget requires $68.2 million to be raised in property taxes to support the 2019-2020 budget, or $1.7 million more than last year. Other sources of revenue for the 2019-2020 budget include $4.2 million in state aid – up from $3.9 million for the 2018-2019 budget – and $309,000 in miscellaneous revenue.

The proposed budget calls for a 5-cent increase in the school district property tax rate – from $1.48 per $100 of assessed value to $1.53 per $100 of assessed value. For the owner of a house assessed at the township average of $282,000, school taxes will go up by $141 – from $4,173 to $4,314.

The main cost drivers in the 2019-2020 budget are salaries and benefits, and out-of-district tuition for special education students, Business Administrator Thomas Eldridge told the school board.

Salaries and benefits increased by $1.8 million to a total $58.9 million, while out-of-district tuition for special education students who cannot be taught in the school district went up by $417,721, or from $4 million to $4.4 million, Eldridge said.

Looking at the trends, Eldridge said the cost of the special education program in the school district climbed by 21 percent between the 2017-2018 budget ant the proposed 2019-2020 budget. During the same time period, the cost of the regular education program increased by 6 percent.

Many of the students who move into the district are at-risk, special education students, he said. They have more needs and the cost to educate them continues to go up, he added.

Transportation costs is another concern, Eldridge said. Between the 2017-2018 budget and the tentative 2019-2020 budget, transportation costs increased from $3.6 million to $4 million. The district is looking at consolidating some of the bus routes to save money, he said.

“I expect the renewals (for the bus routes) to be less favorable,” Eldridge said. The increase in the minimum wage and the requirement to provide sick time will likely affect the cost of the routes, he said.

Breaking down the budget into spending categories, regular education accounts for 37 percent of the budget and special education is 21 percent. Security, maintenance and utilities take up 9 percent of the budget, and transportation is 6 percent of the budget.

Township residents will be able to comment on the tentative 2019-2020 budget at the school board’s public hearing on the spending plan, set for its May 1 meeting.

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