Princeton school board introduces $95.6M budget for 2020-21

The Princeton Public Schools Board of Education has introduced a $95.6 million operating budget for the 2020-21 academic year.

The budget, which was introduced in a unanimous vote during the board’s March 17 meeting, increased by $3.9 million over the 2019-2020 budget of $91.7 million.

A public hearing and final action on the budget is scheduled for the board’s April 28 meeting.

Unlike the 2019-20 operating budget, the 2020-21 budget does not call for a reduction in staff. For the current school year, district administrators reduced the number of staff by 3% through a combination of retirements, resignations and the elimination of some positions.

Any decrease in the staff during the 2020-21 school year will be achieved through natural attrition, administrators said.

The 2020-21 budget calls for $79.8 million to be raised in property taxes from Princeton’s residential and commercial property owners to support the operation of the school district. The tax levy is up by $1.6 million from 2019-20.

The 2020-21 operating budget calls for a 3-cent increase in the school district’s tax rate, from $1.15 to $1.18 per $100 of assessed valuation.

During the current school year, the owner of a house assessed at the town average of $841,064 is paying about $9,671 in school taxes.

With the projected increase in the tax rate for 2020-21, that same individual would pay about $9,924 in school taxes, an increase of $253.

In addition to the local tax levy, other sources of revenue in the 2020-21 budget include $5.8 million in tuition to be paid by the Cranbury School District, which sends its high school students to Princeton High School because Cranbury does not have a high school.

Princeton will receive $4.3 million in state aid for 2020-21. That is an increase of $223,000 from 2019-20. The board will use $2.5 million from savings as revenue in the budget.

On the expense side, the budget appropriates $71.2 million for salaries and benefits. That is a $1.3 million increase over the $69.9 million appropriated for 2019-20.

The school board has appropriated $6.7 million in tuition for the Princeton Charter School, which is an increase of $249,000 over the 2019-20 tuition payment.

Tuition for special education students whose needs cannot be met by the Princeton Public Schools and who are sent to specialized schools out of the district will increase from $3.1 million in the current year to $3.4 million in the upcoming year.

Mindful of increasing costs, district administrators said they are taking steps to spend money more efficiently. Expenses for supplies across the district are being controlled through more efficient purchasing methods and increased scrutiny, they said.

Looking ahead to future budgets, administrators said they are planning to review the special education program. Administrators will pay attention to energy efficiency through LED lighting and other efficiency measures.

There are plans to continue exploring shared services with the municipality of Princeton and with other school districts, and to explore increasing the fees that are charged to groups that use school district facilities.

Fund-raising opportunities for specific programs will be explored, in addition to pursuing user fees for parking where applicable, district administrators said.