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Updated: School District Proposed Budget Carries Slight Tax Decrease

School Superintendent John Ravally speaks to the Board of Education’s finance committee on March 21.

Update: The Board of Education approved the preliminary budget at its March 23 meeting. Board member Pat Stanley abstained on the vote because, she said, she had not had enough time to review it. The budget is now under review by teh county superintendent, and is expected to be finally approved after an April public hearing.

Original Story: It’s small, but there’s a tax decrease included in the Board of Education’s tentative 2017-18 school district budget.

The $168.7 million budget, scheduled to be adopted at the board’s March 23 meeting, is actually about $5 million more than the board’s current spending plan.

The proposed budget also carries with it an approximate $3.2 million increase in the amount to be raised by taxes, from $136,084,365 to $139,288,627.

But those increases have been offset by growth in the township’s assessed property valuation, from  $9.2 billion to $9.5 billion.

The result of that is a proposed tax rate for the school portion of property taxes of about $1.46 per $100 of assessed valuation, slightly lower than the current rate of $1.47 per $100 of assessed valuation.

That translates to a yearly decrease in the school portion of property taxes of $23.55 for the owner of a home assessed at the township average of $318,033, according to the school district.

Schools Superintendent John Ravally and interim board business manager James Strimple took the board’s finance committee through the proposed budget at a March 21 special meeting, held in Franklin High School’s library.

Among the projects and programs for which money has been earmarked in the proposed budget are renovations at township schools, new hires for the Claremont Road School, a “Saturday School,” and new STEM courses at the high school.

The district wants to take about $2.6 million from its capital reserve fund to help pay for a number of construction projects, including about $1.2 million for a concession stand at the high school’s athletic complex.

The concession stand was part of the complex’s original plan, Ravally said, but was never built.

“We’ve been saving up for it in the capital reserve,” he said.

The concession stand includes bathrooms, a kitchen area and space for the high school’s athletic booster club to sell its gear.

Other big-ticket capital projects include $410,000 for the partial roof replacement at Sampson G. Smith School, $330,000 for improvements to the high school’s parking lot, and $235,000 for parking lot improvements at Franklin Park School.

New programs include advanced STEM courses in neurology, chemical engineering and biotechnology.

Also planned are career and technical courses at the high school that could “lead to different pathways” for high school graduates, Ravally said.

The  goal would be for students to “come out of there with some kind of certification that would make them employable, or walk into a college with credits,” he said.

Ravally said there is also “talk” about clustering those types of courses and creating an in-school “academy” at FHS.

The budget allocates about $19,000 for further exploration of that, he said.

The proposed “Saturday School” would be a way for students who cut classes to make up for missed lessons, Ravally said, keeping them in the school at the same time.

Now, he said, the only options the district has is to put a student on in-school suspension, or put them “out of school.”

“If you cut class on Tuesday, we’ll have you here on Saturday,” he said.

Board vice president Nancy LaCorte asked if students who simply wish to get extra credit for courses could also attend the Saturday school. Ravally said that idea was under consideration, as was an idea to extend the program to the middle school.

The district also wants to invest in new technology, Ravally said. The first, “Go Guardian,” among other features, would allow teachers to see what is on students’ Chrome books, and the second, “Share 9-1-1,” would assist the district and law enforcement in the event of a lock down.

The district is also going to have to make some hires in the coming year, mainly for the new Claremont Road School.

Ravally said a principal will have to be hired halfway through the next school year, after which a head custodian will have to be brought on board.

The budget also accommodates a $1.8 million increase in the amount the district will have to pay charter schools attended by township students next school year, Ravally said. Charter schools estimate how many students they expect to have during teh next year, and the districts must encumber that amount.

If all goes as planned, the board will vote on the tentative spending plan on March 23 and send it to teh Somerset County Executive Superintendent of Schools the next day. The board plans on holing a public hearing on and voting on the final budget on April 27.


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