The board of education had an in-depth discussion at its April 11 meeting about raising the tax levy from 1 to 2 percent and moving forward with preschool expansion.
The tax hike is due to the board’s application for Regular Operating District (ROD) grants, which Business Administrator Lynn Shugars explained can be used to help improve facilities and add preschool classrooms.
“ROD grants will provide 40% of the cost, so it’s not free money,” she pointed out. “We still need to come up with a substantial amount.”
With a regular ROD grant, the estimated total for projects being applied for would be about $5 million, with the local share at a little over $3 million. That would cover items cut from the bond referendum.
The preschool ROD grant has two separate applications, one for bathroom additions and another for classroom additions. The total local share is estimated to be $7.6 million for both.
Shugars explained that with the current 1-percent tax levy increase, the money would come out of the capital reserve fund. With debt service from the bond referendum and projects already slated for the 2023-’24 school year, the fund would go from $21 million to about $1.3 million by the time of a 2024-’25 budget.
“At the end of the year, we close out our revenues and expenses,” Shugars explained. “What’s left over goes into our fund balance, and when there’s excess in our fund balance, we move that into our capital reserve account.
“ … There will be opportunities to replenish the capital reserve account,” she added. “However, if you are relying on a larger level of fund balance to balance your budget, you’re going to have less funding available to put into that capital reserve account and replenish that capital reserve account.”
To avoid that, Shugars recommended increasing the tax levy by 2 percent; that would lower the amount taken from the capital reserve fund balance from 27% to 5%. That amounts to an increase of about $52 for the average assessed home.
A discussion then ensued about the pros and cons of moving forward with the grant application, since fund reimbursement wasn’t guaranteed. Board member Kim Gallagher repeatedly questioned why the district would move forward with preschool expansion if it can’t afford to do so and reimbursement of money used to expand from half day to a full day isn’t guaranteed.
In order to be eligible for the preschool expansion funding stream, the district must be able to serve 90% of 3- and 4-year-olds in the district within the first five years, a number that amounts to approximately 1,530 of the 1,700 estimated students. Part of the application also requires full-day preschool.
“My biggest concern is that from the get go now, hypothetically if the funding stream does not 100% cover the pupil cost, then the taxpayers are footing the bill …”
Board member Gina Winters and others acknowledged that the state’s offer to fund building expenses was a rare opportunity the district sought, and whether it applied or not, everyone pays state taxes.
“We’re all paying state taxes, whether we have preschool in our community or not, and the reality is the surrounding communities around us, like Voorhees and Mt. Laurel, are already accessing this money, this state tax money to provide preschool for their communities,” Winters noted.
“Cherry Hill taxpayers are paying the money, whether they’re getting the benefit of preschool programs in their towns or not.”
In other news:
- There will be a town hall on harassment, intimidation and bullying (HIB) on Monday, April 24 from 7 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. at Cherry Hill High School East, and will be livestreamed. Questions can be emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org in advance.
- The district received and accepted a climate grant for $6,660
The next board of education meeting will be on Tuesday, April 25 at 6:30 p.m.