The average township homeowner would pay about $83 more on the school portion of their tax bill under a preliminary budget presented by district officials to the at the board's Tuesday meeting.
Business adminstator James Tevis said it would be the lowest tax increase in at least eight years. The preliminary budget increases the tax levy by 0.81 percent, which is under the state-mandated 2 percent cap. (A PDF of the presentation is attached to this article.)
School board members asked whether raising taxes closer to the maximum amount would allow the district to stop charging a student activity fee to students who participate in sports and extra-curricular activities. The fee generates about $151,500 in revenue.
Ending the fee would raise the tax increase to around 1.06 percent, Tevis said.
Board President Dr. Karen Cortellino said she would like to see the fee eliminated.
"I think there's strong consensus of wanting to see the budget without the student activity fee," she said.
PTC Co-President Kim Passaretti advocated for eliminating the fee during the meeting.
She said students essentially need to be involved with high school activities for college application purposes, making the fee a "backdoor tax" on a necessary part of high school.
"The other part of this is that there are students who can't afford this," she said.
Some parents had trouble paying the fee this year, but were able to ask for and receive assistance, Passaretti said. But other parents couldn't overcome the embarrassment of not being able to pay the fee, she said.
The fee calls for students to pay $150 each to participate in sports or marching band, and $35 to participate in clubs. Families with multiple children don't pay more than $500 and exceptions are made for families eligible for free or reduced lunches.
Board members said they would be emailing questions to Tevis about the preliminary budget this week, and a modified budget would be presented for the board to introduce at its Feb. 28 meeting. A public hearing would be held at a later date.
In the budget
The budget includes money for capital improvements at each school, world language software and other initiatives, including and $12,000 for a co-ed bowling team.
A proposed change in start times for the middle and elementary schools was put on hold after officials determined that an earlier start time for middle school students, which some see as favorable, would come at the expense of elementary school students who would have been returning home later in the day. The district said it will look into additional busing so the middle school and high school could start closer to the same time.
The preliminary budget includes the salaries of two Mandarin teachers at the middle school and high school who previously had been paid through a grant, and additional part-time ESL and BSI instructors and lunch aides at the elementary school.
It includes funding for an additional high school special education teacher, a high school financial literacy teacher, and stipends for an adaptive physical education teacher at the middle school and for two employees who would work in the science research program at the high school.
The athletic department would have stipends for two athletic trainers, the technology department would add an education technology specialist and the special education department would add a physical therapist.
Hiring a physical therapist will save the district money because it had been contracting out for the service at a greater cost, Superintendent Dr. Paul Fried said.
Two classroom teacher positions would be cut, one from Woodmont School and one from William Mason School, due to enrollment, Fried said. He said that doesn't necessarily mean anyone at those schools will be leaving the district involuntarily because openings could be created through childcare leaves, people moving and retirements.
High school parking fee
The parking fee for high school seniors would decrease from $75 to $50 under the proposed budget. The fee would be expected to raise $10,500, which is the salary of the parking lot attendant who handles paperwork and permits, and monitors the lot.
This year, the higher fee raised $18,000.
Passaretti said the school shouldn't charge parking fees if it can't guarantee parking spaces, which is the current practice.
The board is expected to introduce the budget at its Feb. 28 meeting, scheduled for 8 p.m. at the .