Hazlet residents will see a slight increase in their school taxes with the Board of Education's approval of a budget with a 1.6 cent increase to the tax rate at their March 21 meeting.
The $49,980,443 total general budget tentatively approved for the 2013-14 academic year is about a $1.6 million increase from the 2012-13 total general budget of $48,324,762. The total general budget includes a $1,550,000 contribution from the district's capital reserve account.
The operating budget, which is a portion of the total general budget that covers the day-to-day costs of running a school district, increased by $210,963, or 0.44 percent, according to Business Administrator Christopher Mullins.
Impact on Tax Payers
The increase in the budget resulted in a $668,419 increase in the tax levy. The amount to be raised by taxes over the 2013-14 academic year is $34,108,882. Even so, Mullins explained, the increase to the tax levy was $1,345,419 under the permitted two percent cap. School taxes have not been raised since the 2010-11 academic year.
The school tax rate for the 2013-14 year, including debt service and other adjustments, will increase 1.6 cents to $1.4482 per $100 of assessed valuation. The 2012 school tax rate was $1.432 per $100 of assessed valuation.
In effect, a property with an assessed valuation of $300,000 would pay $4,344.60 in school taxes for the year, a $48.60 increase from 2012.
What Does the Budget Support?
Prior to holding a public hearing on the budget, Mullins and Superintendent Bernard Bragen walked the small audience through the budget. Bragen explained that the budget planning process focused on three major objectives, including articulating a multi-year approach to attain short and long term goals, ensuring all resources are used in a way that highlight's the district's mission to enhance student achievement, and demonstrating that the district and Board of Education have made budgeting decisions with the best interests of the students and the tax payers in mind.
Three areas of improvement highlighted during the presentation were capital projects, technology improvements and program enhancements.
The capital projects slated for the 2013-14 year include several facilities improvements, including a new media center and kitchen at Cove Road School, new interior and exterior doors, bathroom renovations, technology infrastructure, window replacements and classroom renovations.
"Every year we try to do a set of doors, a set of windows," Mullins said, noting that regularly making small improvements prevents the need for large expenditures on capital projects.
The Raritan High School auditorium will also see a series of improvements, including new partition doors, new carpeting, HVAC improvements and LED lighting.
In the area of technology, the district plans to increase wireless capabilities in all schools, upgrade internet access, new software programs, SMARTboards, iPads, iTouches, Netbooks, laptops, student response systems and ELMO document camera projection systems.
"Whether we agree with it or not, like it or don't like it, the technology component is not going away and it's how our students learn," Bragen said, adding that the approximately 300 iPad currently in use in the district continue to take learning to the next level.
Program enhancements will include expanding technology offerings in Raritan High School, purchasing textbooks that include multimedia access, expanding summer enrichment to include advanced placement (AP) courses, expanding middle school math to include pre-algebra and algebra 1, and implementing the state teacher and principal evaluation model.
What Caused the Increase?
Mullins explained that between the 2009-10 school year and the 2010-11 year, the district saw state aid decrease by over two million dollars which caused a reduction in staff and programs as well as an increase in taxes. State aid in 2011-12 increased slightly and last year the district was restored to about fifty percent of the aid they received in 2009-10.
State aid for 2013-14 will remain the same, Mullins said, adding that the Department of Education's model to restore school aid was supposed to include a $2.19 million increase in the district's aid.
"The state failed the fund the budget appropriately as they said they would," Mullins said.
Even so, Mullins explained that the taxes could be much higher if the district had chosen to raise taxes the past two years or to raise taxes this year by the full two percent cap. For 2011-12, the district avoided a $541,375 in allowable increases, in 2012-13 they avoided $743,136 in allowable increases and this year they will forego $60,908 in allowable increases. That would have been a total of $1,345,419 in increases to the tax levy over the last three years.
No one spoke during the public hearing and the board unanimously voted to approve the budget as it was introduced March 4.
The next meeting of the Hazlet Township Board of Education will be Monday, April 22 at 7 p.m. at Sycamore Drive Early Childhood Learning Center.