School board adopts tentative budget with two-cent increase

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Lawrence Township property owners will see a two-cent increase in the school district property tax rate, based on the Lawrence Township Public Schools’ $85.4 million operating budget for 2024-25.

The Lawrence Township Public Schools Board of Education approved the tentative budget at its March 13 meeting. It will be reviewed by the Executive County Superintendent of Schools.

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A public hearing on the proposed budget is set for May 7 at 6:30 p.m. at Lawrence High School.

The school district property tax rate will increase from $1.63 per $100 of assessed value to $1.65. The owner of a house assessed at the township average of $285,767 would pay $4,710, or $52 more than under the current 2023-24 budget.

A Lawrence Township property owner’s tax bill includes the school district property tax, the municipal property and open space taxes, and Mercer County property, library and open space taxes.

The property tax levy to support the 2024-25 operating budget is $76.8 million. The tax levy for the current 2023-24 operating budget is $74.5 million.

Other sources of revenue include miscellaneous income, such as tuition and interest on savings, and money from the fund balance or surplus account.

State aid increased by $463,795 to $6.9 million. This reflects a trend of increased state aid to the school district, which received $6.4 million in state aid in the current budget.

“This is probably the last year we will see a bump (increase) in state aid,” Business Administrator Thomas Eldridge said. There may be a percentage increase in future budgets, but not a formula increase, he said.

Eldridge said the cost drivers for the 2024-25 budget are essentially the same as they have been in prior budgets – salaries and benefits, and transportation.

Salaries and wages increased from $49.6 million to $50.8 million. The increase is due to contractual obligations, but the district also must be willing to pay more to hire teachers, said Superintendent of Schools Robyn Klim.

“We are in the middle of an educator staff shortage. We are looking at educators coming in who are really looking for competitive salaries. They are leaving other districts to come work in Lawrence,” Klim said.

Employee benefits also increased by $1.1 million – from $14.7 million to $15.8 million. Benefits include workers’ compensation, insurance, medical and prescription drug plans, and vision and dental plans.

School bus transportation costs went up from $5.2 million to $5.7 million. About $150,000 of the increase is attributable to busing for the expanded pre-school program, Eldridge said.

Overall, salaries and benefits account for 79% of the budget. Transportation makes up 6%. Out-of-district tuition payments for specialized schools for special education students also accounts for 6% of the spending plan.

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