For North Bergen and Guttenberg property owners, the taxes needed to fund the school districts in their towns are estimated to rise 2 and 6 percent respectively.
Due to Gov. Christopher Christie’s funding cuts, both districts had to cut staff last year. Guttenberg’s Board of Education, which supervises Anna. L. Klein Elementary School, had to lay off 24 staff members.
Officials from both towns said that increases to this year’s budgets will not be as extreme, nor will they require a reduction in staff.
But taxes will rise.
Property taxes are made up of three components: School taxes, municipal taxes, and county taxes.
The North Bergen Board of Education has approved their 2011/2012 fiscal year $112.7 million budget. If approved by voters during the upcoming April 27 school board election, the budget will be partly funded by a total of $41.76 million in taxes, a $782,542 or 1.91 percent increase from last year. Most of the rest of the money comes from state and federal aid.
In Guttenberg, the Board of Education approved a $14.4 million budget for fiscal year 2011/2012, with the tax levy of $9.9 million. According to officials, appropriating $89,390 of their surplus allowed them to keep this increase to 6.19 percent.
“The good thing is it’s not draconian.” – Dr. Joseph Ramos
NB taxes going up $43 for average home
According to North Bergen Board of Education Business Administrator Steven Somick, the overall budget increased by 2 percent, remaining within the state mandated cap, which was 4 percent last year.
He said that a property owner of a home assessed at $140,000 will result in a $43.73 annual increase from last year’s school tax portion. This home would pay an estimated $2,287 in school taxes this year.
Somick said that last year’s school tax rate was $1.60 per every $100 of assessed value, while this year’s rose by 3 cents and is now at $1.63 per $100.
Remaining within this year’s 2 percent cap was a challenge due to the district’s health benefits package rising between 18 and 20 percent, he said.
He also said that the teacher’s union members, according to their contract, were entitled to a 4 percent raise.
They found relief from these increases in the form of $1 million in the Federal Education Job Fund Aid, which they saved, but must be used this year before the funding expires. The state, after defunding their aid by $5 million last year, also gave them an additional $1 million this year.
The district’s pre-k program lost around $500,000 in state funding this year, which they supplemented from their surplus.
The district is expecting to get $52.1 million from state sources and $2 million from federal aid.
“There were some fears that if we were going to loose state aid again. If we didn’t get the state aid we would have been calling the [teachers’] union to talk about opening up their salaries, and who knows where that would have [gone],” said Somick.
He said that those fears are still formidable since there has been talk of the state cutting Title I funding next year. However, he also hopes that revenues for the solar panels on the roof’s of most schools in North Bergen could bring $500,000 of revenue, if not more.
Gutt officials say budget can’t be cut
Guttenberg’s 2011/2012 fiscal budget is increasing by 7.25 percent, but according to officials, the increases are beyond their control.
Board of Education Business Administrator Jolene Mantineo did not know what the new school tax rate would be, but assumes it will be around $18 per $1,000 of assessed value per year. Mayor Gerald Drasheff said he believed it will be around $12 per $1,000 of assessed value.
Mantineo said that their operating budget is increasing $972,392 from last year’s $9.4 million. She said that $614,000 of the increase comes from special education costs.
Superintendent Dr. Joseph Ramos said that often special education students who are sent out of the district have tuitions around $90,000, while in classroom aides can charge $100 an hour for students who need the extra assistance.
Mantineo said they were told to assume a 15 percent increase in the state’s health benefits policy.
Mantineo said that the tax levy is at the minimum allowed according to a state formula and that these increases are allowable because they are not controlled by the state’s budget cap.
“The good thing [about the budget] is, it’s not draconian,” said Ramos. “It’s not going to impact people and their lives and their livelihoods and jobs like last year where we had to let go 24 people, so that’s a good thing. On the other hand, you’re just able to keep your head above water.”
Gutt superintendent leaving
The Board of Education also voted not to renew Ramos’ contract and will seek an interim and/or part-time superintendent, while Ramos plans to leave at the end of June. The district only includes one school.
“Although I am a superintendent, I do a lot more than just being a superintendent,” he said. “I observe and evaluate teachers in their classrooms. I provide support, there’s lunch duty. You do need someone here with a vision and say ‘here, this is where we are going to go.’ ”
Ramos doesn’t know how the school will function, since he said there are very few support staff positions.
Tricia Tirella may be reached at TriciaT@hudsonreporter.com.