Cherry Hill's Proposed School Budget Increases Taxes, Prevents Layoffs

CHERRY HILL, NJ — Massive reductions in state aid won’t force Cherry Hill schools to lay off staff or increase class sizes. But that will come at a cost.

The Cherry Hill School District would raise taxes by $194.71 on the average assessed home worth $226,922, according to the preliminary budget for the next school year that was approved at Tuesday’s Board of Education meeting.

That’s on top of the tax obligation from the 2022 bond referendum, which raised taxes by $386 on the average home.

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The budget’s general fund, as outlined, would fall from $256.1 million in the current school year to $251.6 million for 2024-25 — a 1.8 percent decrease. But local taxation would increase 3.6 percent — from $189.3 million to $196.2 million — because of slashes to state aid and other outside-funding sources.

Cherry Hill schools will receive $29.5 million in state-equalization aid from Gov. Phil Murphy’s proposed budget for the next fiscal year — a 19 percent decrease from this school year’s allocation of $36.4 million and the district’s lowest total since 2021-22.

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Past reporting:

Several board members praised Assistant Superintendent Lynn E. Shugars, who presented the proposed budget, for finding ways to prevent layoffs and other negative impacts for students.

“We’re not going to be seeing any increase in class sizes,” said Board Member Adam Greenbaum. “We’re keeping all of our academic support services in place. Our students should not see the impact of these cuts.”

Retirements and other projected job vacancies helped trim the budget. The district will also reduce spending on equipment, supplies, professional development and athletics, according to Shugars.

The budget is merely preliminary. The school board will hold a public hearing April 30 on the revised budget.
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Several community members expressed concerns about the tax hikes. Laurie Neary, a former board member and president, said the board should rethink burdening the taxpayers, since shortfalls in equalization funding could remain an issue until state lawmakers come up with a new formula for distributing school aid.

“I am absolutely terrified of a tax impact like that on the average homeowner,” said Laurie Neary, a former board member and president. ” … We are now pitting our taxpayers against our students and staff. It’s a Sophie’s choice. I hate it.”

Board President Miriam Stern echoed that reductions in state aid made budgeting a Sophie’s choice, calling the local tax hikes “a really difficult decision” and a “huge ask” for property owners.

But Stern endorsed another tool that could help Cherry Hill balance its budget: community advocacy. Since state officials revealed last month that Cherry Hill would receive the state’s second-largest reduction in equalization aid, the district community has mobilized for better state funding.

Dozens of stakeholders, including students, will bus to Trenton on Wednesday to push for the restoration of Cherry Hill’s state aid. Several will testify before the State Assembly’s Budget Committee.

“We are grateful for the advocacy that’s been happening,” Stern said. “We will continue to advocate. My hope is that our voices will be heard and that we will be able to have a revised budget by April 30th.”

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