Harrison seeks to raise school tax to full 2 percent cap

Superintendent Margaret Peretti said the district was directed by the state to hit the cap in order to fully operate

By KRYSTAL NURSE

The Sun

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The Harrison Township School District has sent its budget for the 2019–2020 school year to the county for review.

Within the new budget, the district seeks a 2.57-cent tax rate increase per $100 of assessed home value, a 1.5-cent raise from last year. This means for an average assessed home valued at $342,650, residents can expect to see an annual increase of $88.06.

The reason for the tax increase, said Superintendent Margaret Peretti, is because of a state mandate due to the cuts in their aid.

The total budget is $21,300,360, a $366,888 increase from last year. Business Administrator Rob Sharle said the increase was largely due to students attending charter schools out of the district.

“Charter schools are filed through the state and treated as public tuition … and the state forces that into your budget,” he said. “You have no choice but to obey it. There’s a new charter opening in Elmer, and it’s been attracting some of our students.”

Sharle added the district’s implementation of a full-day kindergarten program in September changed the amount of aid it will receive for the upcoming school year because roughly 80 more students were being counted as a whole student (opposed to half, which the state doesn’t consider for aid), dropping the initial aid reduction from $187,065 to $77,318.

“When we received our state calculations, they gave us the ability not only for our cuts to go from $187,065 to $77,318, but they gave us the ability to increase taxes for the $254,280, then do the 2 percent on top because of the enrollment adjustment,” said Sharle. “They’re not giving us the $254,280, what happens is it goes to the taxpayer and we’re able to tax for that.”

Despite the new kindergarten enrollment, Sharle and Peretti both said projections show the district is due to lose 14 students next year, which is why the state said HTSD was overfunded by $1,514,698 in July 2018. The funds will be incrementally cut from the budget until 2025, when the state projects for them to be completely gone.

Aside from the cuts in state aid, Peretti said the district is seeking to maintain class sizes and current programs, wherever possible, and to upgrade the buildings for the safety of students and staff.

“The board of education continues to keep the needs of the students and staff their first priority, even in these very difficult financial times,” said Peretti. “The implementation of the full-day kindergarten was planned at the perfect time and has been tremendously beneficial in lessening the blow of the anticipated state aid cuts in the coming years. We are appreciative of the township leadership and Mayor Manzo for their continued support of the schools.”

For the upcoming school year, the board looks to replace two 54-passenger school buses, one through the budget, another through PILOT (Payment in Lieu of Taxes) funds, which would last 15 years. They are also looking to do duct cleaning in Pleasant Valley School, and complete LED lighting upgrades at Harrison Township Elementary, and move on to Pleasant Valley over a two- or three-year period.

The public hearing for the budget is scheduled for April 29 at 7 p.m. at Pleasant Valley Elementary School. A final budget, approved by the county, will be presented. Changes to the budget will be reflected in The Mullica Hill Sun.

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