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West Deptford School Board Signs Off on $44.54 Million Budget

The final version of the budget represents a 4.81¢ tax rate increase this year.

Something happened when business administrator William Thompson went to put in the final numbers this year—something that hasn’t happened in his 11-year tenure in the district.

The tax levy actually came back too low—below the state minimum, in fact.

“We knew [the minimum] was there,” superintendent Kevin Kitchenman said, but added it hadn’t really been a consideration until the error showed up.

They ended up adding back around $56,000 back into the tax levy to hit that minimum, which comes in at $273,023 less than last year’s general fund levy—a decrease of about 1 percent.

But, due to a $172 million drop in the ratable base, it still amounts to a tax rate increase, now of 4.81¢ per $100 of assessed value, meaning a home assessed at the township average of $207,966 will pay an extra $98.10 in taxes for the 2012-2013 school year.

“We can’t cut it any further,” Kitchenman said.

In the presentation of the newly revised version of the budget, which passed unanimously, Kitchenman laid out the cuts that got them to their final number.

From capital projects—’s roof won’t be completely replaced this year—to the laptop program—scaled back in a lease program to outfit the entire —to cuts at the building level, the administration pulled out $724,558 from the initial budget to get down to the final, $44.54 million version—a figure that includes debt service and the special revenue fund.

The single biggest cut came in out-of-district tuition, which the administration chopped by $250,000. That isn’t a guarantee that reduction can hold, however, as board Vice President James Mehaffey pointed out.

“We could get burned in some areas,” he said, noting the district has had to deal with paying high tuition for those out-of-district placements before. On at least one occasion, it’s topped six figures for a single student.

“If that comes in, we have to find that money,” he said. “We are taking some risk on the tuition.”

The budget got some criticism from the public, mostly on where money is being spent.

The question of administrators’ salaries came up, and Ernest Kraus noted the trend in private industry toward cutting salary higher up on the food chain.

“I just wonder, do we have too many executives?” he said.

It’s a question that’s come up before, Kitchenman said, and he noted the state breaks all that down in the annual taxpayer’s guide to education spending.

“We rank among the bottom in districts like ours,” he said.

In fact, the 2011 report shows West Deptford running below the state average of all K-12 districts, not just those in its district factor group. The district budgeted an administrator cost of $1,255 per student in the 2010-11 budget, versus an overall statewide average of $1,394 among all K-12 districts.

The actual cost per pupil in the district the two years before that was even lower, coming in at $1,185 per student in 2008-2009 and $1,176 per student in 2009-2010.

Beyond that, the district is carrying the fewest administrators in the county, school board President Christopher Strano noted.

After the board finalized the budget, Strano called it the culmination of effort from all over, including West Deptford Education Association members, who came together with the board to , and school administrators, who worked to find ways to keep the budget under control.

“We’ve made a good compromise,” he said.

But Strano warned the fallout from the over could still hit the schools down the road, and said the district is in the dark about that situation. While he and Kitchenman have pressed township officials on the details, none have been forthcoming.

“We don’t know what’s in that settlement,” Strano said.

One of the worst-case scenarios for the district would be if the settlement included an unprecedented Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILOT) program for the Eagle Point complex, Strano said, which would be a huge blow, given that PILOTs exclude schools from those payments.

“That could be devastating to our portion,” he said.

Even without the Eagle Point settlement concerns, the district could be facing a tough budget again next year, as administrators try to find ways to save money and balance that out with revenue that might not be there.

“We used a lot of our safety nets this year,” Strano said.

Tax rate increase Tax bill increase Tax bill change if ratable base is stable Initial 8.119¢ $166.04 $12 Revised 4.59¢ $93.46 -$56.43 Final 4.81¢ $98.1 -$52

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