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School Board Approves $52 Million Budget

The 1.38 levy increase will raise taxes in the borough and lower them in the township.

The Westwood Regional Board of Education approved a $52 million budget for the 2012-13 school year during their meeting Thursday.

"It allows us to maintain all of our core programming and continue to make positive momentum," Superintendent Geoffrey Zoeller said.

The budget comes with a 1.38 increase to the overall tax levy, but Westwood and Washington Township residents will be affected differently by the budget. The average Westwood homeowner will see an increase of about $238 per year while the average township homeowner will see a decrease of about $62. Zoeller said the disparity is caused by changes in the assessed value of each municipality. Because Washington Township has fewer businesses, its value has been affected more by the housing market. The township's assessed value dropped by about $10 million this year.

In the past, the majority of the levy has shifted between the borough and the township. Westwood's share has slowly been increasing since 2007, when borough taxpayers handled just under 49 percent of the levy. Next year, Westwood will pay for about 54 percent of the levy. According to district Business Administrator Keith Rosado, the only way Westwood's share of the levy could have been brought down would have been if the district approved a budget with a .5 percent decrease from this year.

"I feel badly that it's being borne by the Borough of Westwood," Zoeller said. "It will swing back."

The state has placed more burden on local taxpayers for the school budget, Zoeller said. State aid will make up about 3.2 percent of next year's budget, while the local tax levy brings in about 88.7 percent of the district's money. Though the state has by about $300,000, the total $1.6 million the district will receive next year is only about half the $3.1 million the state gave for the 2009-10 year.

"The issue about school funding doesn't have a lot to do with local issues," Zoeller said. "It has to do with the flow of the money in the state."

Zoeller outlined the budget during Thursday's school board meeting. The largest appropriation is about $18.6 million for student instruction, with another $7.7 million going to instruction support services and an additional $3.5 million going to tuition for students who require special education out of the district. $256,000 will go toward a new program for students with autism. Growing in-district special education programs will save about $196,000 in tuition next year, Zoeller said.

The district is restoring some of the staff positions and programs that were cut when the state slashed aid in 2010. They are also planning some capital improvements. Locker rooms, the lower gym and Hurley Theatre all have renovations planned at the. There will also be some blacktop resurfacing at some of the elementary schools.

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