School budget shows more spending, but lower taxes; Improvements at Sheraton, Paine Webber lead to tax decrease
The 2000-2001 Weehawken Board of Education budget was introduced last week, adopted this week, and represents a newfangled trend - more spending, but less taxes. The proposed $13 million budget, adopted by the Board of Education after Tuesday night's meeting, brought out no opposition. It represents an increase of $325,000 over last year's $12.7 million budget, with the increases slated for salary raises, health benefit increases for employees and special education programs. The tax levy also went up approximately $400,000, from $8.8 million to $9.2 million. The budget calls for an average spending of $9,295 per pupil for the coming year, also an increase. With all the increases in spending and money raised by the tax levies going up, one would expect a raise in property taxes to offset the increases. But that's not the case. In fact, the exact opposite is happening. Because of an expected increase in tax ratables thanks to renovations and improvements made to the Sheraton Hotel and the Paine Webber office facility, the Board of Education will enjoy a windfall of $370,000, which is nearly $50,000 more than what was needed in the budget. "So we're taking that money and returning it to the tax payers," said Board of Education President Richard Barsa. "It's not much, but it is a decrease." The tax decrease will be approximately seven dollars for the average owner of a $175,000 home in the township. "We do have a pretty lean budget," Barsa said. "And we did a few things to save a few dollars. But we use exactly what we need and that's where the additional money comes from." Barsa said that the township was able to secure a similar total in state and federal aid. Because it is not designated as a special needs district, there is always the possibility that the state and federal funding could be cut, like it was five years ago. However, the Board of Education received notification already that there will be no drastic changes in funding in the coming year. "We've taken our fair share of losses in state and federal aid in the past," Barsa said. "We didn't this year." Approximately 17 percent of the 2000-2001 budget will come from state and federal aid, which is much lower than most Hudson County communities. Barsa said that the Board of Education does not anticipate drastic personnel changes due to retirements and hirings, so that also kept the budget total down significantly. A year ago, there was some talk that the Board of Education might add different items to the curriculum, like fine arts, music and theater. "We kicked around some ideas, but it's so difficult to institute new things because of so many standards that have to be met by the state mandate," Barsa said. "We're not able to do all the things that we would like to do. So we're pretty much toeing the line and keeping everything status quo. We've maintained all of our programs and will continue to maintain and upgrade the technology program." The technology program, which began nearly six years ago, started to pay its finest dividends during the past calendar year, when a new computer lab, with complete Internet hookup, was installed in the schools. "We're proud of what we've been able to accomplish, especially the latest SAT (Scholastic Aptitude Test) scores, which places our students among the top three in Hudson County," Barsa said. Only McNair Academic in Jersey City and Hudson County Hi-Tech received higher average SAT scores. The 2000-2001 school budget now goes to the voters and will appear on the April 18 election ballot. However, any budget that shows a tax decrease stands very little chance of getting turned down by the voters. Barsa, Carmela Ehret and Joseph Rutigliano are all running for re-election unopposed on the same ballot.