School planners offer some good news, some not so good Vernon The good news is that the school tax rate to fund the 2009-2010 school budget is decreasing by 1.105 percent. The bad news is that the decrease won’t mean much. “The problem is that the change in rate tells you nothing because housing values have changed so much this year,” said Stephen Kepnes. He’s the school board’s administrator/business manager. According Kepnes, the township told him that the estimated average home value after the revaluation is $228,346. That is almost double the previous year’s figure of $125,000. So: The average household may have been paying a higher tax rate of 2.517 percent per $100,000 of assessed value last year and based on the average valuation, a homeowner’s school tax bill would have been: $3,146.25. Using the new average home value and the lower tax rate of 1.412, the average household would pay a bit more: $3,224.25. Keeping under cap The school board did stay under the state-mandated 4 percent budget cap. To do this, the board took advantage of two factors. A projected decline in enrollment and staff attrition. Enrollment is predicted to go down by 5.1 percent in the upcoming school year. Also, 22 certified teachers are retiring. This gave the board a chance to make significant staffing changes. According to board member John McGowan, only nine of those teachers will be replaced, saving over $1 million in salaries and $300,000 in benefits. The downside, according to Superintendent Anthony Macerino, will be slightly larger class sizes. But the district will still keep class size well within “acceptable levels,” he said. For example, class sizes for kindergarten through eighth-grade will have a maximum of 21 students. Tapping the reserve The other down side to this year’s budget is that the board has opted to go into the district’s cash reserves to forestall further tax increases. At the end of the 2007-2008 school year, Vernon Township School District had approximately $1.5 million dollars in reserve, $1 million of which will be put into the 2009-2010 budget. That leaves a balance of about $585,500, a number that makes board president Howard J. Whidden nervous. “When you look at some of things that have happened in the past, we are leaving ourselves very tight.” The total school tax levy that will be presented to voters on April 21 is $39,216,204. This includes no increase in state aid. “When the Department of Education and the Governor’s office announced the state aid a few weeks ago, to no one’s surprise, we received no increase in state aid. Our fixed costs, however don’t remain flat from year to year and nondiscretionary costs such as utilities, transportation, insurance, pension and salaries increase each year,” said board member Edward DeYoung. And the biggest increases are in those categories transportation costs are increasing approximately $353,000 and employee benefit costs are increasing by over $600,000. The sunny side But there are a few benefits in the new budget. There are no cuts to any extracurricular programs, including athletics, and a lease with Dell will be bringing new computers into the district to replace machines that are in some cases, over nine years old.