School taxes to increase for Cherry Hill homeowners

School taxes will be on the rise in Cherry Hill Township after the Board of Education adopted its 2016–17 budget at last Tuesday’s meeting.

The Cherry Hill Public Schools’ adopted budget for next year includes a total tax levy increase of 3.43 percent. Cherry Hill residents with an average assessed home of $223,500 will have an increase of $108 in their school tax bill. Residents with the average assessed home can expect to pay about $4,830 in school taxes.

Assistant superintendent of business James Devereaux gave a presentation prior to the public hearing and vote on the budget. There were no major changes after the board voted to approve the preliminary budget on March 15.

The district is raising the tax levy above the 2 percent cap this year through the use of a health-care cost adjustment exception and banked cap. For the health-care cost adjustment, a school district can increase school taxes when projected health-care costs are higher than 2 percent.

The district can use banked cap because it did not raise the tax levy up to the 2 percent cap last year or in the 2013–14 school year. In those years, the district can bank the difference between the levy increase and the 2 percent cap for use in the next three school years. The district is utilizing $569,528 of banked cap from 2013–14 and $251,734 from 2015–16.

The total budget is about $191.5 million, an increase of 4.82 percent from last year. Part of the reason for the increase is the district’s pre-payment of “lease purchase two,” scheduled for July 1. Lease purchase two is the payment of the district’s 2014 boiler replacement project. The district owes $3.2 million on the lease purchase. It will use $2 million in New Jersey Regular Operating District Grants to help complete the lease purchase payment.

There are no cuts to this year’s budget, but board member Steve Robbins expressed concern for the years ahead. He spoke of how using banked cap to balance the budget is a troubling sign, adding the banked cap the district used this year won’t be available in the coming years. He asked his fellow board members to begin thinking about next year’s budget right now so the district can be prepared for whatever may lie ahead.

Next year’s budget will be the first under a new assistant superintendent for business. With Devereaux retiring at the end of the school year, the board of education approved the hiring of Lynn Shugars as the district’s new assistant superintendent for business, business administrator and board secretary beginning on July 1. Shugars is currently the business administrator for Moorestown Township Public Schools.

Field conditions not satisfactory for Cherry Hill East softball parents

Turf fields may be on the way at Cherry Hill High School East and West, but the project isn’t enough for parents and booster club members for the Cherry Hill High School East softball program.

A group of parents came to last Tuesday’s board of education meeting asking whether the school district could help fix what they described to be a dangerous Cherry Hill East softball field.

“My daughter is an outfielder,” Sandra Rosman said. “She has fallen into a hole, she has fallen into a divot, she has traveled over a makeshift fence.”

Rosman added the softball field at Cherry Hill East pales in comparison to Cherry Hill West’s facility.

“Cherry Hill West has a dugout, they have a fence, they have an electric scoreboard,” she said. “We have none of those things. We don’t even have bleachers for people to sit.”

Michael Levine has a daughter in the softball program and has also coached softball for more than decade with Cherry Hill Atlantic Little League. He said of the many fields he has seen all around the Mid-Atlantic region, Cherry Hill East has the worst.

“I have never seen an abomination of a field that Cherry Hill East puts its girls on,” Levine said.

“Less than 1 percent of what was spent on the turf fields would be sufficient to build a safe softball field for the girls,” he added.

Another parent, Linda Geis, said she and other parents presented the same issues to the board in 2015, but nothing has changed.

“We were promised a fence this season,” Geis said. “We were told the money was available for it and it would be in for the first game of the season. We have, I think, four home games left and there’s still no fence up at our field and no answer as to why.”

Board of Education President Carol Matlack thanked the parents for their concerns and said the board will ask administration to look into the status of the outfield fence.

Busing, maintenance problems for Rosa track team

Poor field conditions aren’t limited to Cherry Hill East. A separate group of Rosa International Middle School parents said they are waiting for repairs to a long jump runway and pit at the school.

Rosa does not have a formal track at the school, but a long jump runway and pit were put in a few years ago to allow athletes to practice. Currently, athletes are not able to use the practice area, as it has been deemed unsafe due to a lack of new sand in the pit.

Busing has also been a problem for the track team. Because of a lack of available buses, sixth and seventh graders cannot both attend track meets. Students from those grade levels alternate what meets they attend, with eighth-grade students being the only ones to go to every meet.

Timing of the buses has been an issue. Brendan McGovern, a parent of a Rosa student, said track athletes are sometimes being dismissed before school ends to travel to a local meet because of a lack of available buses later in the afternoon.

“A couple of weeks ago, they were bused over at East at 1:45 and sat there, waiting for the other teams to arrive for the track meet, which went until 6 p.m., doing nothing,” he said.

McGovern questioned if the district couldn’t afford the buses. Superintendent Joe Meloche said the busing problem has nothing to do with money.

“It’s not about funds. The funds are there to pay for buses. If we could get buses, we’ll put the kids in buses,” he said.

Meloche added he plans to speak to Rosa Principal George Guy to resolve the school’s issue regarding the long jump pit.