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Princeton school board approves budget

The Princeton Public Schools Board of Education adopted its $96.3 million operating budget for 2021-22, following a public hearing at its April 27 meeting.

The 2021-22 operating budget increased by $700,000 over the 2020-21 budget of $95.6 million.

The amount to be raised by property taxes to support the spending plan has increased from $79.6 million in the 2020-21 budget to $80.4 million for 2021-22, or by $796,139.

The school district property tax will increase by 2 cents – from $1.18 per $100 of assessed value to $1.20.

The owner of a house assessed at the town average of $841,064 will pay $10,101 in school district taxes, which is an increase of $151 over last year.

In addition to the property tax, other sources of revenue in the 2021-22 operating budget includes $4.8 million in tuition from the Cranbury School District, which is sending 247 students to Princeton High School. The district sends its high school students to Princeton High School because it lacks a high school.

The Princeton Public Schools also will receive $4.5 million in state aid for 2021-22, which is an increase of $296,017 over the amount it received for the 2020-21 operating budget. The district also will apply $3.3 million from its fund balance, or surplus account, as a source of revenue.

The property tax levy makes up 86% of the revenue to support the operating budget. State aid makes up 7% and tuition for the Cranbury Public Schools high school students is 6%. Tuition for students who live outside of Princeton and whose parents work in the district, plus miscellaneous revenue, is 1%.

On the expense side, the budget appropriates $72.3 million for salaries and benefits, or 77% of all expenses, school district officials said.

The budget also earmarks $7.1 million in tuition for the Princeton Charter School. Tuition for special education students whose needs cannot be met by the school district and who are sent to specialized schools out of the district will be $3.2 million.

Turning to the impact of COVID-19, school district officials said the district saved between $2 million and $2.5 million. Those savings occurred during periods of remote-only learning, and included lower transportation costs and lower energy costs.

Those savings were offset by a nearly equal amount of extra costs, mainly due to improvements to the HVAC (heating ventilation and air conditioning) systems at the Princeton Unified Middle School, and the Community Park, Littlebrook and Riverside elementary schools; supplying personal protective equipment; and supporting the teachers through new technology, extra help and tents for outdoor learning.

It is expected that the pandemic-related costs will be reimbursed by the federal government.

Although there was no comment from the public on the budget, school board member Brian McDonald praised the school board’s Operations Committee – school board members Deb Bronfeld, Dan Dart, Beth Behrend and Susan Kanter – for focusing on the budget and ensuring that “every taxpayer dollar was spent as efficiently as possible.”

McDonald also praised Business Administrator Matthew Bouldin for enacting strong controls in purchasing, as well as working with the school district’s insurance broke to provide “the same high quality benefits to all employees but at a cost that is no longer growing at the rate it had been growing.”

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