EGG HARBOR TOWNSHIP — The Board of Education approved a $113.5 million 2013 budget Tuesday, with a 2 percent increase to the local tax levy.
This year’s budget calls for a school tax rate of $1.813 per $100 of assessed property value. The rate is down 36 percent from last year’s tax rate of $2.833. Business Administrator and Board Secretary Kateryna Bechtel said that’s due in large part to the township’s revaluation, which is expected to increase the average residential assessment.
Property owners with the average 2012 residential assessment of $137,285 can expect to pay $2,489 in school taxes. The township-wide revaluation means 2013’s average assessment, which was not available Tuesday, will likely increase. School taxes make up about two-thirds of local property taxes in the township.
The budget calls for spending $12,949 per student. That figure has increased 18 percent from $10,960 in the 2010-11 school year.
Superintendent Scott McCartney said federal and state cuts to school funding impacted the district “in a pretty mighty way,” forcing the board to work hard to identify about $2.7 million in cuts to get it down to the state’s 2 percent tax levy increase cap.
“We’ve been able to retain the jobs that exist for our employees (and that) in turn maintains the programs and class sizes, at least to the levels they exist,” he said.
Bechtel said state funding is expected to decrease about 30 percent, to $176,278 this year.
The most substantial cuts included the elimination of all after-school transportation and several freshman sports programs, such as lacrosse and soccer, she said. The district will also not replace five retiring teachers, three of them from elementary schools.
Most students will also need to pay fees to participate in clubs and sports, Bechtel said, but those who receive free and reduced lunch will be exempted from the new fees.
Several capital programs, such as intercom and telephone upgrades and roofing projects, have also been delayed in order to save money.
At the same time, the district’s expenses are increasing. Prescription and medical insurance plans, for instance, contributed to a nearly 7 percent increase — to $26.5 million — in employee benefit costs.
All but one school board member, Lisa Dagit, voted to approve the budget. Dagit had recommended cutting a few new staff members from the budget and reducing funding for supplies in order to save $400,000 and about half a cent from the tax rate.
“It would have been a gesture that the board is heading in the right direction on taxes,” she said.
Board President James Galvin said the board already made serious cuts and that schools must raise taxes to the cap or face more serious budget crises in the future. The school is already operating short-staffed, he said.
“If anyone thinks it’s going to get better next year, they’re foolish,” he said.
Board member Pete Castellano said school officials have met with its state delegation and testified before the Senate budget committee in an attempt to improve state funding for schools.
Amber Umphlett, a township resident, said she’s circulating a petition to try to get more state funding for the schools. She currently has 700 signatures in hand, with petitions also available for parents to sign at each of the schools.
“The more noise we make, the more (Gov. Chris Christie) will want to keep us quiet and the bigger checks he’ll write,” she said.
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