Galloway introduces school budget with a 1.5-cent tax increase

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GALLOWAY – The Public Schools Board of Education introduced its budget Monday, Feb. 27 calling for no increase in the amount to be raised by local taxes.
But tax bills will still go up, thanks to a $26.5 million reduction in total taxable property value in Galloway, Business Administrator Timothy Kelley said.

“In order to be as transparent as possible, we used the most recently available ‘net valuation taxable’ from the township,” he said. “This is the total value of all property paying taxes in the township.  That number decreased $26.5 million from the prior year.  As a result of the decrease in the taxable value of township property, the tax rate has increased. The only reason for the rate increase is the decline value of taxable property. “
According to Kelley, the tax rate will increase 1.5 cents, from 75.8 cents to 77.3 cents per $100 of assessment.
“As a result of the decrease of property value, the tax rate per $100 of assessment increased,” he said. “If property values had increased, the opposite would have been true, and the tax rate would have decreased even though the tax levy remained constant.”
While the local levy remains stable at 27,975,500, the total general fund budget is up about $2.5 million going from $53,729,135 to $56,123,664.
A property valued at $200,000 would have paid $1,516 in local school taxes this year. Next year’s tax bill would be $1,546 – a $30 increase.
The school board unanimously approved the preliminary budget that must be sent by March 5 to the county superintendent’s office for approval.
The board will meet on Monday, March 19 and again Monday, March 26, at which time there will be a public hearing and then final approval of the budget.
“Even though the public no longer votes on the budget, they still have the right to voice their opinions and ask questions,” Superintendent of Schools Annette Giaquinto said.
The board has opted to move school elections to November and pass budgets without public votes as long as they stay under the 2 percent tax levy cap.
“I’m proud of our staff for putting together a budget with no tax increase,” Galloway Board of Education President Ernest Huggard said.
There will be no staff cuts for budgetary reasons, Giaquinto said. Any reductions in staff would be due to drops in enrollment, she said, adding that enrollment has stabilized.
The proposed budget keeps all current programs and services, and continues to put a priority on reasonable class sizes, according to a presentation made by Giaquinto and Kelley.
“We are keeping our reasonable class size in the elementary schools,” Giaquinto said. “Actually it’s better than reasonable, which is important since we think that contributes to quality education.”
Average kindergarten class size is expected to be 16.6 students; first grade is expected to average 18.4; second grade, 20.8; third grade, 18.9; fourth grade, 21.9; fifth grade 23.6; and sixth grade, 20. 5.
“The low number in sixth grade is because if we remove one teacher, the number would skyrocket,” Giaquinto said. “I think these are excellent numbers.”
A $900,000 increase in state aid allowed for new materials and professional development in math for grades k-5; English language arts for grades k-3; seventh- and eighth-grade social studies; health classes in first through eighth grade and greater use of iPads.
“The iPad feedback has been so positive that we will have more of them,” Giaquinto said. “There will not be one for every student, but we will provide them in areas where they would be most helpful.”
Another approximately $900,000 became available after it was budgeted last year for the opening of a second charter school – which didn’t occur.
Negative budget factors are increased insurance costs which are expected to rise 10 percent or more and about $820,000 in federal stimulus money that will no longer be distributed.
Board President Ernest Huggard said he was “very proud and excited” the district was able to craft a budget that did not require raising additional money from taxpayers.
“The dollar amount is constant – it did not increase,” he said. “The reduced property value in the township is out of the district’s control.” 

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