LOWER TOWNSHIP — Higher health insurance costs, two new school buses, a new social studies curriculum and teacher raises are contributing to a tax increase this year for the elementary school district.
The proposed $27.3 million budget would raise the property tax rate by 2 percent, from 36.2 cents for each $100 of assessed valuation to 36.9 cents. The increase of 0.7 cent is a bump of $12 for the average home.
The tax bill for a home assessed at $295,500, the average residential assessment here, would include $957 to fund the elementary school district. Last year, the tax bill for the average assessment, $261,100, created a tax of $945.
Superintendent George Drozdowski noted ratables are down $17.4 million in the township and costs are up more than 2 percent, but the increase is being kept low due to reduced staff.
“We have eight or nine teachers retiring next year. We’re not going to be replacing most of these teachers, and that’s where we’re closing the gap,” Drozdowski said.
Positions that are replaced will be with young teachers at the bottom of the salary guide, he said. One reason attrition is possible is enrollment has declined in recent years in the district that goes from prekindergarten through sixth grade. It reached a high in the late 1990s at 2,300 students and is now 1,830 pupils, including 60 students from other towns who will attend on a tuition basis under the state’s school Choice program.
The budget is up by 0.55 percent, from $27.16 million to $27.31 million. The exact increase is $149,217.
The amount to be raised by taxes, however, is up by $299,050, from $14.95 million to $15.25 million.
Drozdowski listed a number of the major cost increases, including $500,000 more for health insurance, $200,000 for two new school buses and $110,000 for a new social studies curriculum. The budget includes $300,000 for employee raises, although there is no contract for the school year that begins in September and negotiations are continuing.
The upcoming construction of solar panels at four sites on school property will help cut future costs, he said.
“We’ll save $100,000 to $125,000 on the solar (electric) system going on line this summer,” Drozdowski said.
Another initiative is a plan to beef up security in the district’s four schools in wake of the school shooting in Connecticut. Drozdowski will unveil details of the plan at the Board of Education meeting on Tuesday night that includes a hearing on the budget.
“It will increase safety for students and staff,” he said.
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