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6-17-15 Education and Related Issues in the News

Burlington County Times -  school taxes rising in Burlco…They are increasing in all 39 school districts, in some cases substantially.  ‘…Lynne Strickland, director of the Garden State Coalition of Schools, which advocates on behalf of suburban school districts, said the tax increases are inevitable, given the rising costs of labor contracts, energy, special education, health care and other expenses. Meanwhile, school aid from the state has remained close to flat for nearly three years…"It's no coincidence," Strickland said Friday. "The lid is getting tighter and tighter, and steam is coming out the edges. That's why districts are having to go to their banked-cap money. They've got no other options.”  ‘

By David Levinsky, Staff writer, June 15, 2015

Following are the 2015-16 school tax levies for 39 public school districts in Burlington County and the percentage change compared with the 2014-15 levies. The levy represents the amount of property taxes needed to support the district's budget and is used to set the tax rate, which determines how much each homeowner must pay:

Bass River: $1,427,055 (+6%)

Beverly: $2,845,921 (+1%)

Bordentown Reg.: $27,203,066 (2.1%)

Burlington City: $10,899,878 (+4%)

Burlington Twp.: $38,793,919 (+2%)

Chesterfield: $8,152,813 (+3.1%)

Cinnaminson: $31,187,085 (+3%)

Delanco: $5,560,840 (+0.6%)

Delran: $29,341,706 (+3%)

Eastampton: $4,296,661 (+4%)

Edgewater Park: $8,938,914 (+4.5%)

Evesham: $54,750,302 (+2.6%)

Florence: $15,697,142 (+2%)

Hainesport: $7,530,541 (3.7%)

Lenape Reg.: $107,781,862 (+3%)

Lumberton: $12,856,287 (+4.1%)

Mansfield: $9,604,841 (+2%)

Maple Shade: $23,204,506 (+3.3%)

Medford Lakes: $5,687,254 (+3.5%)

Medford: $40,491,836 (+4%)

Moorestown: $58,519,011 (+4%)

Mount Holly: $7,512,380 (+1.5%)

Mount Laurel: $56,481,794 (+2%)

New Hanover: $1,656,225 (+2%)

North Hanover: $2,705,329 (+7.3%)

N. Burlington Reg.: $18,754,839 (+4.2%)

Palmyra: $8,633,789 (+5.8%)

Pemberton: $12,942,946 (+2%)

Rancocas Valley: $16,519,529 (+2%)

Riverside: $7,595,583 (+3.7%)

Riverton: $4,739,666 (+1.5%)

Shamong: $8,609,047 (+5%)

Southampton: $10,590,484 (+1.2%)

Springfield: $3,472,249 (+0.6%)

Tabernacle: $7,108,411 (+4.8%)

Washington: $1,420,963 (+15.8%)

Westampton: $9,183,354 (+2%)

Willingboro: $28,168,680 (+7.1%)

Woodland: $1,777,712 (+8%)

Source: N.J. Department of Education

TRENTON - Gov. Chris Christie's proposed state budget may spare all of New Jersey's public school districts from losing any school aid during the upcoming fiscal year, but the policy isn't saving local property owners from tax increases this summer.

Budget data obtained from the New Jersey Department of Education shows that school tax levies - the amount of money raised from local property taxpayers to support school budgets - are increasing in all 39 school districts in Burlington County, in some cases substantially.

And while a 2 percent cap on tax levy increases is in place, nearly two-thirds of the districts in the county are legally raising taxes over the limit by using cap exemptions for enrollment increases, health care and pension cost increases, or by using "banked" cap money from previous school years when their district levies were below the 2 percent limit.

For the school budget year beginning next month, 25 districts in the county approved budgets that increase their tax levies more than 2 percent, including 10 districts with levies that grew by more than 4 percent.

The increases are becoming more commonplace. Last year, 23 districts in the county approved budgets with tax levies exceeding the 2 percent limit, up from 16 districts during the 2013-14 school year and eight during 2012-13.

Lynne Strickland, director of the Garden State Coalition of Schools, which advocates on behalf of suburban school districts, said the tax increases are inevitable, given the rising costs of labor contracts, energy, special education, health care and other expenses. Meanwhile, school aid from the state has remained close to flat for nearly three years.

No Burlington County districts are losing aid under Christie's proposed budget, but only three - Northern Burlington County, Pemberton Township and Washington - are receiving increases.

"It's no coincidence," Strickland said Friday. "The lid is getting tighter and tighter, and steam is coming out the edges. That's why districts are having to go to their banked-cap money. They've got no other options."

Among the county school districts, Washington's 15.8 percent tax levy increase was by far the largest, followed by Woodland (8 percent), North Hanover (7.3 percent) and Willingboro (7.1 percent).

Washington's levy ballooned from $1.22 million during the 2014-15 school year to $1.42 million for the approaching 2015-16 year. The district used a $60,105 exemption for enrollment increases, a $6,489 exemption for health care costs, and $102,499 in banked-cap money.

The increase in the tax levy caused the school tax rate to rise nearly 4 cents to $1.16 per $100 of assessed property value, forcing the owner of a home assessed at the township average of $234,859 to pay $2,724 in school taxes, an increase of $80.

Woodland also is using the exemptions for enrollment growth and health care costs, and banked-cap money to exceed the limit.

Among the 39 districts in the county, 22 are making use of the health care exemption, 11 are using exemptions for rising enrollment, and 19 are using banked-cap money, according to the Department of Education's data.

Among the 19 districts using the banked-cap exemption, Willingboro's $995,147 was the largest. It amounted to more than 3 percent of the district's $28.1 million tax levy.

Supporters insist that the exemption provides school districts with some much-needed flexibility when crafting budgets. But the exemption is restricted to only the previous budget years. After three years, any unused banked-cap money is lost.

In addition to the cap exemptions, school districts are permitted to ask voters to approve spending above the 2 percent limit through districtwide referendums.

Last year, Mansfield and Medford Lakes placed tax cap referendums on the November election ballot. This year, no Burlington County school districts have requested to hold referendums for above-cap spending, according to the Department of Education.

 

Star Ledger - Teacher pension protest backed by N.J. education union

By Emily Cummins | For NJ.com Hunterdon County Democrat  Email the author | Follow on Twitter
on June 16, 2015 at 2:44 PM, updated June 16, 2015 at 5:31 PM

The New Jersey Education Association stated today that it supports the county-wide "blackout" protest at Hunterdon County schools.

As students arrived at schools in Readington Township district and Flemington-Raritan district, Holland Township schools and at Hunterdon Central Regional High School, teachers and other public school employees dressed in black, each holding up a number representing the payments made into their pension.

Although not an NJEA organized demonstration, spokeswoman Christy Kanaby said that Hunterdon teachers and education support professionals chose Monday, June 15, because it marked another pay day and another pension payment.

"They wanted to make sure that everyone understood that they are concerned, and that their payments grow as they continue to be unmatched," she said. "It was not intended to have any impact on the children."


POLL: Were N.J. teachers wrong to protest at school? Tell us what you think.

MORE: N.J. teachers protest pension payments | Your comments


While other groups have chosen to protest in Trenton, Kanaby said that grassroots demonstrations are not uncommon throughout the state, and the NJEA supports

 

Hunterdon's choice to protest locally.

"They all have families to support, careers to maintain, bills to pay."

"The most powerful way to make their cause known and visible is to see them in action at the place that they work," she said. "They all have families to support, careers to maintain, bills to pay... it's a situation that needs some serious attention."

But Kanaby said that the issue does not begin and end with teachers, classroom aides, bus drivers and other public school employees are also at risk, and according to the NJEA one in every 12 residents in the state would be effected if the pension program collapses.

"Many of the school employees, I dare say all of them, are feeling very frustrated in the wake of the state Supreme Court's decision," she said.

Stating that concessions have cost them thousands of dollars in recent years, "education support professionals and our teachers throughout the state have never missed the pension payment... school employees just want to be able to retire with dignity."

Administrations at the participating districts did not respond to request for comment.

Stay with NJ.com for more on this story.

Emily Cummins may be reached at ecummins@njadvancemedia.com Follow her on Twitter @EmilyACummins and Facebook.

The Jersey Journal - Albright: Confirming Christie's legal right to cut (pension contribution from) budget

By Joseph Albright | For The Jersey Journal, updated June 17, 2015 at 6:16 AM

Gov. Christie got a death-row budget reprieve from the New Jersey Supreme Court on June 9.

The state's highest tribunal ruled in a 5-2 opinion that Christie had the legal right to cut $1.57 billion in contributions to the state's public employee pension system.

The decision spared Christie and the Legislature a fiscal crisis just three weeks before the state budget year ends on June 30.

The ruling overturned a ruling in Mercer County Superior Court last February, handing public employee unions a major defeat.

Justice Jaynee LaVecchia wrote that the state constitution prohibited the governor and the Legislature from establishing a legally enforceable contract increasing pension fundingwithout voter approval because it would create long-term debt.

LaVecchia had kind words for the public employee unions. Their arguments, she said were morally "unassailable," adding, "The loss of public trust due to broken promises made through the law was staggering."

The justice wrote the obvious: "That the state must get its financial house in order is plain."

Angry Democrats and union leaders vowed to continue the fight such as proposing a budget for the fiscal year, starting July 1, with full funding -- $1.57 billion – in the pension fund.

It certainly wasn't foreseen when legislators modernized the state constitution in 1947 by agreeing they wanted a "strong chief executive" – meaning the governor had line-item veto power on the budget.

Christie stands ready with a veto pen – like a surgeon in the operating room.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Joseph Albright's columns appear in The Jersey Journal on Thursday's.


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