No Public Comment, District Budget Approved

The board of education approves its 2011-2012 budget without any comment from the public.

After zero public comment, and no questions from the board members, the board of education unanimously approved its Tuesday.

The 2011-12 school budget is an increase of 0.67 percent over the 2010-11 budget of $128,639,881.

“That 0.67 percent is the lowest increase to the budget in 19 years,” Superintendent of Schools Michael Schilder said.

Bridgewater residents will pay $1.30 per $100,000 of assessed property value, which is an increase of 6.17 percent over the 2010-11 rate. This equates to an increase of $310 for a $410,817 home.

Those living in Raritan Borough will pay $1.27 per $100,000 of assessed property value, which is equal to a 0.24 percent increase over the previous year, or an increase of $10 on a home assessed at $320,441.

“We are capping the budget at a 1.5 percent tax levy increase, but the tax rate is increasing,” Business Administrator Peter Starrs said.

Starrs said there are three factors that are used in determining the tax rate. The first, he said, is how it is calculated on the calendar year, so part of it is based on the previous year’s budget, and the other half is part of the next year’s budget.

The second factor, Starrs said, is based on an equation handed down by the state to determine the difference in payments between Bridgewater and Raritan. And the final factor has to do with the rateables in the towns.

“Bridgewater went down about 3 percent this year [in rateables], and Raritan has remained about the same,” he said.

Board of Education President Jeffrey Brookner said residents should remember that even though the tax rates are given for certain home values, the final number to be paid also depends on assessed values for individual homes.

“People think their taxes will go up $310, but that is only true if the value of the house is the same this year as last year,” he said. “We assume most values went down, so you have to take into account the change in the assessment.”

As for the breakdown of the budget, Schilder said the district was trying not to eliminate more programs and make too many changes after the massive cuts that had to be made when the district lost so much state aid last year.

“This was a year of trying to sustain programs, and maintain what we have after last year’s cuts,” he said.

The only new addition to the budget, Schilder said, is $130,758 for new textbooks, which was added in after the district learned it would be receiving an additional $1.3 million in state aid this year.

“Two years ago, we had $12 million in aid, so this is only 20 percent better than last year,” Starrs said.

Bridgewater will receive $6,717,763 in state aid this year, an increase of $1,331,546 from the 2010-11 allotment of $5,386,217. And through other incoming funds, Schilder said, the district found it actually had an additional $2.2 million in the budget following Gov. Chris Christie’s budget address in February.

“So we plugged in the gaps in the budget,” Schilder said. “And we increased the tax levy by 1.5 percent instead of the cap of 2 percent.”

Schilder said the district unfortunately had to deal with a 30 percent increase in health benefits costs, after initially assuming they would only be increasing by about 25 percent. That amounted to projected costs of $1,172,575.

“We had the bad news from the healthcare broker, so we accommodated that,” he said. “And we had three more students for out-of-district tuition.”

These changes, plus the additional funds for extra textbooks and other needs in the budget, used up the $2,248,648 available to plug in the gaps.

The budget itself, Starrs said, is made up of several different aspects, but the biggest chunk is for salaries and benefit.

“Those are the largest in the budget,” he said. “And it happens in any district because it’s a labor-intensive budget.”

From there, Schilder said, the district still has a list of items that could be considered if the budget were to fail or if anything else should change that requires the district to make any more cuts. These options include reducing clubs in the schools, creating an alternative high school schedule and further staff reductions, among others that he said are not currently being considered.

“Every one of these are not on the front burner,” he said. “But if the budget was defeated, we might come back to them.”

The only option on the list that the district is moving forward with, Schilder said, is increasing fees for use of the district facilities and applying those fees to other vendors, like the after care programs.

Schilder said the idea to have the program brought in house has been put on the backburner, and possibly eliminated altogether, but the fee idea could probably be implemented.

“We are looking to increase the fees and apply them to other vendors,” he said. “This will be discussed over the coming months.”

With the budget vote happening on April 27, Schilder said, the district is providing many options for residents to learn about the aspects of it. Aside from already planned sessions in front of the PTOs, the district will be presenting the budget to the Bridgewater Township Council April 4, and the Raritan Borough Council April 12.

families can see a presentation there at 9:30 a.m. March 25; and families can see the presentation at the middle school at 7:30 p.m. March 31; families can see the presentation at 7 p.m. April 6; and primary school families can see it at Crim Primary at 7 p.m. April 7; and families can see the presentation there at 9:15 a.m. April 15.

Schilder said he and Starrs would discuss the budget and answer questions from individuals.

“We want everyone to understand the budget,” he said.

Information on the budget can also be found on the district’s website.

Jeffrey Brookner March 23, 2011 at 09:21 PM
To clarify two points: (1) The BOE did open the meeting up for public comment, but nobody came forward. (2) While no BOE member asked questions at that particular meeting, members have asked questions at prior public meetings, and in committee meetings. Jeffrey Brookner, President, BR-BOE (These comments are my own; I do not have authority to speak on the Board's behalf).


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