Board of Education approves tentative budget

The Board of Education approved its tentative budget for the 2016-2017 school year at its March 15 meeting. This year, Princeton homeowners with an average home valued at $810,191 will see a school tax increase of $215 if the final budget is approved.

The budget totals $91.4 million, a 3.69 percent increase from 2015-2016. Last year, with a total budget of $90.3 million, it saw a 3.27 percent tax levy increase.

The increase, more than the state cap of 2 percent, was made possible by use of banked cap from last year’s enrollment waiver adjustment. The district is also applying for a health benefit waiver adjustment.

According to Princeton Public Schools business administrator Stephanie Kennedy, the increase occurred mainly because of salary and benefits. Eighty-four percent to 85 percent of the total budget is paid for by taxpayer dollars with 15 percent covered by other sources.

“The budget is preliminary and tentative at this point with room for suggestions and adjustments,” Superintendent Steve Cochrane said. “We had a meeting open to the public March 1.”

Both board President Andrea Spalla and board member Dafna Kendall voiced their hesitation on approving the tentative budget.

“We should all work together toward seeing how things can be done more efficiently,” Kendall said. “I think we’re moving forward with the budget with the best interests of taxpayers and the students, not necessarily in that order.”

There will be an opportunity for public comment before the final budget is voted on at the April 26 meeting at 8 p.m. at Valley Road.

In other news:

• Fern Spriull of the facilities committee announced Princeton will test its water as a precautionary measure after Newark schools found lead in its supply.

• Cochrane announced the district “must fill Bill [Cirullo]’s legacy” – launching the search to hire a principal for Riverside Elementary School. The district will screen applicants in April and review them using a district-wide search committee in May. Cochrane will interview the finalists and make his recommendation to the board in May. Standing Riverside Principal Paul Chapin will hold the position until then.

• Princeton Public Schools had a communications audit, both internally and externally, and is waiting for an 80-page report of “strengths and areas of enhancement.” Meanwhile, the school district is moving forward on its new website and email platform, which is more than 20 years old. The “migration” to an up-to-speed online presence, Cochrane affirmed, was accommodated in the budget by redistributing, with no external costs coming in.

• The board made a change to the waste management system, adding a $30,000 compost program to PPS.

“Composting is important for the community and as an educational practice for our students,” Cochrane said.

This is part of the Green Team initiative. Each Green Team building will receive a $2,000 grant to help pay for the receptacles.

• Student board members Madi Norman and Nick Pibl made a “compelling” argument for the next step for student wellness. The reps, along with Princeton High School senior Mark Petrovic who spoke during public comment, voiced their support for physical education exemption for athletes. The exemption, deemed “Option 2,” would allow all student athletes to apply for exemption during their season with a replaced free period or study hall to help with homework load – reflecting the model of other school districts such as Bridgewater/Raritan.

Cochrane replied the board and administration are looking into and considering Option 2 and thanked the students for their commitment to improvement.

• Cochrane announced PPS administrators will engage in “shadowing,” a process of following various students through their daily school routine to build a better understanding of the work load and stresses of PHS students.

About Erica Chayes Wida

Erica Chayes Wida is a writer, mom, and complete zealot when it comes to poetry, paella and globe collections. After graduating with a degree in Anthropology from UCLA, Erica moved to Italy where the seasons and old architecture inspired her journey back to the East Coast. Since then, she and her husband have created a nest egg locally and, over time, developed a rather grand love affair with the town of Princeton. Erica is senior editor at The Princeton Sun and enjoys fulfilling her Princeton affections on a daily basis. | View all posts by Erica Chayes Wida