To the Editor:
I’ve been pretty quiet since retiring from the school board, but I feel I have to speak out in opposition to the district’s proposed 5.27% tax increase. During my six years on the board, there was unanimous agreement, regardless of political position, that there needs to be a balance between investment in our schools and the burden we place on our taxpayers. Following this principle we were able to keep the tax burden low (under cap) and take advantage of some of our surplus savings to achieve our funding goals.
According to the March 2019 public hearing, the current Board of Education is increasing the General Fund Tax by 5.27%. They are able to do this through a combination of:
- Spending to cap,
- Using a (health benefit) waiver to spend over cap,
- Using taxing authority to spend the amount below cap that previous boards did not spend.
This is troubling and quite a departure from previous policy, but what makes it more problematic for me is this is happening in the context of decreasing enrollment. So the board is asking for more money to support fewer students.
And why? As far as I can see, simply because they feel they should tap into as much funding as they can regardless of origin or of current need, lest they lose access to these funds in the future. What they fail to mention is that the money they intend to get is not a surplus, but taxes that have yet to be levied. Hopewell Valley has a very large surplus that they could easily be used in part to fund their plans for the year.
It doesn’t seem that unreasonable to suggest a more balanced approach to funding, using a mix of surplus money and tax levies that come in under or near to cap. School board member Adam Sawicki has suggested just such a measured, prudent path which makes a lot of sense to me.
Let me also put the situation in Hopewell into a regional perspective. This year Hopewell continues to have the highest enrollment decline in the county, and yet:
- Robbinsville could spend to cap but chose not to.
- Ewing could have added health benefit waiver spending but chose not to.
- West Windsor-Plainsboro could have authorized spending previous below cap savings but chose not to.
None of the other districts are lamenting “the loss” of taxpayer dollars that they could have charged.
Finally, it is worth noting that there are many areas in the school budget that could be reduced through increased efficiency. This is especially evident at the high school level where the number of class offerings over the last few years has doubled, with class sizes for many of these offering well under 15 students, some even in single digits.
The school district should eliminate undersubscribed options and look for other savings through efficiency, then consider using existing surplus funds before asking the already overtaxed citizens of Hopewell Valley to pay even more taxes.