The Watchung Hills Regional High School Board of Education adopted a $36 million budget for the 2012-13 school year that includes funding for additional staff, facility repairs, and a new phone system.
The budget passed by a unanimous vote of the six board members attending Tuesday’s special board meeting. Because the board has chosen to hold elections in November and was able to stay within the state’s 2 percent cap, there will be no public vote on the budget. Although there were about 20 people in the audience, no members of the public commented prior to the vote.
As a result of a state funding formula for the regional district, the owner of property assessed at Warren Township’s average of $625,600 will see a $7 decrease in property taxes collected for the district while Watchung homeowners (average assessment $633,203) will see a $123 hike and Long Hill homeowners (average assessment $387,822) will see a $75 jump.
Board Vice President Harold Grossnickle explained three factors that significantly impacted the budget:
- Environment, including an enrollment that will increase by more than 5 percent (125 students), more than in previous years.
- Key cost drivers, such as labor, which accounts for more than 70 percent of the operating budget.
- Key takeaways such as “strong fiscal responsibility” to keep below the cap and “sound fiscal management” that will enable the board to proceed with maintenance repairs and renovate “our over 50-year-old facility,” Grossnickle said.
The budget includes funding for 4.9 new staff members (including .5 nurse), continuing the current commitment to improve technology, a new phone system, maintaining and improving 400,000 square feet of buildings and the 100-acre property – and also saving taxpayers $130,000 per year as a result of recent bond refinancing.
Business Administrator Tim Stys explained that, in addition to keeping to the 2 percent cap, challenges to develop the budget included minimal state support ($902,393 as opposed to the $1.7 million two years ago), a reduction in send/receive tuition revenue and ongoing maintenance and capital needs.
“In this environment, it is very, very hard,” he stressed.
Board member Peter Fallon said, “With the 2 percent cap on tax levy increases, we were able to find a way to increase our staff to try and continue this board’s emphasis on academic excellence. That’s what we want to continue to be known for.”