With Cap Adjustments, 69 School Budgets Going Over 2 Percent

John Mooney | April 20, 2011 | Education
Adjustments enable school districts to cover costs they can't control, like healthcare and enrollment

One in 10 districts will be asking voters next week to approve school budgets with permitted increases above the 2 percent recommended in the new tax levy cap, thanks to the few exemptions remaining in the law.

Proposed by Gov. Chris Christie and approved by the legislature, the new 2 percent caps allow districts to come in over that amount to cover specific costs out of their control, such as health care and pensions and increases in enrollment.

The New Jersey School Board Association (NJSBA) yesterday provided the list of 69 districts that are making the so-called cap adjustments, most of them for only a fraction above the 2 percent. The list was confirmed by the state Department of Education (DOE).

These are separate from the 11 districts asking separate ballot questions — or “second questions” — for extra programs and services over and above their budgets. All the votes are on Wednesday, April 27.

Out of the 69 making adjustments, only seven exceed the 4 percent that was the previous limit and all of those are for enrollment jumps, at least in part. Three of the districts are in Burlington County. All but one are in south Jersey.

At 34 percent, the highest increase is Cape May Point. But it is a tiny community of only a few families that sends a half-dozen children to outside districts and where adding just one student represents a big percentage increase.

The bulk of the rest, with overall increases typically between 2 percent and 3 percent, are going over to address rising health care costs, according to the list.

“Health benefits remain the most rapidly growing area of employee compensation,” said Frank Belluscio, an NJSBA spokesman. “Although staff members now pay toward health benefit costs, school districts still face sharp increases in premiums. That appears to be the most prevalent reason for cap adjustments.”

The top 10 increases and the reasons cited are the following:

  • Cape May Point (Cape May County) — 34%, enrollment
  • Absecon (Atlantic) — 6.9%, enrollment and health care
  • Elmer (Salem) — 5.76%, enrollment
  • Edgewater (Bergen) — 4.82%, enrollment
  • North Hanover (Burlington) — 4.2%. enrollment
  • Burlington Township (Burlington) — 4.1%, enrollment and health care
  • Chesterfield Township (Burlington) — 4.1%, enrollment and health care
  • Runnemede (Camden) — 4%, health care
  • Ridgefield (Bergen) — 3.99%, health care, pension, responsibilities assumed
  • Lyndhurst (Bergen) — 3.89%. enrollment.