FIT says school budget is good news

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OCEAN CITY — Fairness in Taxes members seem pleased with the Ocean City School District’s 2012-13 budget. At a Friday, March 2 FIT meeting, member Vic Staniec said he had “good news to report” concerning the budget presented by the school district earlier in the week.

The Ocean City school board approved a preliminary school budget with no tax increase at a Wednesday, Feb. 29 meeting.

“There’s no increase in the amount of money that they have to collect from the taxpayers,” he said.

The $38,711,113 budget increases spending by 2 percent for the 2012-2013 school year, but the increase is offset by revenues other than taxes.

“Where is the money coming from if not from taxpayers?” he said. “It’s coming from the district’s School Choice program. The exact amount of the increase is coming from the state.”

Cognizant that some FIT members questioned the value of the program, he said District Superintendent Kathleen Taylor said that the state will pay for 68 out-of-district students to attend Ocean City schools. Dispersed throughout three facilities, Staniec said the students help fill otherwise empty seats; and at $12,330 per student for a total of $838,440, made it possible to deliver the “zero increase” budget.

The school board voted unanimously to send the budget, with a proposed tax levy of $21,640,721, to the county superintendent for approval.

“It’s the same as last year,” he said of the tax levy.

A public hearing on the budget is set for March 28 in the community room of Ocean City High School.

Some FIT members questioned why the sending districts to Ocean City: Upper Township, Sea Isle City and Corbin City, pay $15,999 and the state only pays $12,330.

Staniec noted that the state pays an average, based on the cost of educating all students from kindergarten through grade 12, across the state. He said it cost the district nothing since the School Choice students were filling empty seats and no extra teachers had to be hired as the number of students allowed to attend was carefully monitored by Ocean City School District officials.

Transportation costs, he noted, are paid by the sending district, not Ocean City.

Staniec noted that, with the proposed tax levy coming in with no increase, Ocean City voters would not have an opportunity to vote on the budget in November.

The district will be able to “bank,” or save $432,814 from this year’s budget in case it needs to exceed the cap within the next three years. Last year, the district banked $75,000, bringing the total cushion to $507,814.

The surplus, he said, remains too high for his comfort, but Staniec reported to FIT members that he met with school business administrator Tom Grossi and Taylor and he was satisfied that although too high, school officials had it under control.

“There’s a lot of money banked,” he said. “They have $6.8 million in surplus.”

The cost of staffing the district’s schools is over 80 percent of the budget, he noted.

School Choice, he said, replaces revenue lost to dwindling enrollment and fills empty seats. Without it, the district would increase the tax levy to the 2-percent cap and still would have had a budget shortfall of $406,000.

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