Mt. Laurel residents will pay more in local school taxes in 2015.
The Mt. Laurel Board of Education unanimously approved the school district’s 2015–16 budget at last Tuesday’s meeting. The budget includes a $42.75 increase for the average assessed home of $237,518.
The total tax levy for the budget increased 1.9 percent last year. Superintendent Antoinette Rath praised the district for staying under the 2 percent cap and not utilizing any bank cap.
“We don’t need it now,” Rath said. “We’re doing what we need to do with what we have.”
The total amount of the budget is $71.55 million, an increase of 1.19 percent from last year. The district received $4.34 million in state aid, the same amount it received in 2014–15.
Despite the tax and budget increases, assistant superintendent for business Robert Wachter noted the school district is spending less money per pupil than the average school district in New Jersey. The average cost per pupil for Mt. Laurel next year will be $13,982, well under the 2014–15 state average of $14,781.
The school district also receives help from the parent-teacher organizations and the Mt. Laurel Public Education Fund. Rath said these organizations provide the funding for many of the district’s student organizations and clubs.
“Nearly every school club, aside from one or two, are funded through our PTOs and public education fund,” she said.
Rath also said the district has been able to reduce the budget’s impact on taxpayers through a series of cost-saving measures, including the school’s solar project, exterior lighting project and participating in the Burlington County Joint Insurance Program.
“We are attempting any kind of innovation to help our taxpayers,” Rath said.
This year’s budget includes an expansion of two of those cost-saving measures. The district plans to expand its solar energy program to Larchmont and Hillside elementary schools. Solar panels are already installed at Hartford School and Harrington Middle School. The district will also continue its exterior lighting project, installing new lights at Larchmont School.
A number of other projects will improve school security. Countryside Elementary will receive new classroom doors over the summer. The district is also planning to install more security cameras and strobe lights this year.
“The safety and security of our students is paramount,” Rath said.
Building maintenance is another large part of the budget. Some of the building projects include phase three of a carpet to tile project at Springville Elementary School, replacement of the rooftop HVAC unit at Hartford School, HVAC control replacements at three schools and paint jobs at four schools.
On the educational side, the district is expanding the new Journeys reading curriculum to first grade after it was rolled out last year in second through sixth grade. The budget also includes funding for new reading and comprehension assessments, and STEM materials and supplies.
The district is also making another investment in new technology for both students and teachers.
“We have included about six Chromebook carts and 150 computers for our teachers,” Rath said.