At the Board of Education meeting on March 15, a new budget plan was synthesized, which included an increase in taxes and several new hires for the next school year.
The new budget plan accommodates an approximate $1.8 million increase in costs associated with salary and benefits from the labor contracts negotiated in 2015 and does not surpass the limit for annual budget increases. Based on recommendations from Superintendent Steven Cochrane and school principals, the plan also accommodates for new staff members, including a new guidance counselor.
The finance committee began discussing the 2016 budget plan during December of last year. The committee then held a more specific budget workshop on March 1 and a public session on March 15 to hold discussion among community members. “This year the superintendent worked to ensure that the activities of the Princeton Public Schools education remained the same, without cuts to programs or services, and the Finance Committee was willing to support that effort, while encouraging all parties to think strategically about our future activities and expenses,” wrote Finance Committee Co-Director Patrick Sullivan in an email.
A new counselor achieves the function of lowering the student-to-counselor ratio, thus increasing counselor availability. “I feel like there could be more guidance counselors because each student should have more attention,” Elizabeth Zhang ’19 said. “A lot of guidance counselors have too many students, so they aren’t able to pay attention to every one of them.”
This easier accessibility allows students to spend more time with their counselor and shortens wait time. “Having another guidance counselor would allow for each guidance counselor to carry fewer students in total,” Evan Hirschman ’16 said. “With fewer students assigned to each counselor, it makes it easier for students to go to guidance and to not worry as much about [the wait time].”
The tax rate attributed to Princeton Public Schools will be raised above the two-percent cap to 3.69 percent because of permitted waivers, representing a $76.1 million tax levy. This increase is synonymous to a $215 tax increase for a $810,191 average home assessment, and the tax increase will be primarily used to fund labor and healthcare costs from contracts that the Board negotiated last year.
At the April 26 finance committee meeting, the tentative spending plan will be officially approved and adopted. It is currently awaiting support from the County Superintendent of schools, with the potential for modifications to be made. Since the budget plan falls within the limit for budget increases, the finance committee anticipates that the County Superintendent will have no issue with the budget.
The reaction of community members are expected to vary. “I suppose it depends on whether taxpayers believe the status quo is worth supporting with this level of additional taxes, or if they believe that there are other, more efficient ways we could be delivering a high-quality education to our children,” wrote Sullivan.