Hillsborough School Board Grapples with State Funding Cuts

The Hillsborough School Board faced budgetary challenges as state funding cuts and healthcare cost increases dominated discussions in their latest meeting. The board addressed a $2.7 million loss in state aid, which contrasted sharply with increases in other school districts within the county. This shortfall, alongside a 2% tax levy increase and an 8% hike in health benefit renewals, has put the district in a precarious financial position as they aim to submit a tentative budget for the 2024-25 school year.

Topping the list of concerns was the considerable decrease in state aid for the district, despite an overall increase in public education investment in New Jersey. One board member urged state legislators to adopt a “first do no harm” philosophy to school funding, stressing the importance of equitable support for all districts. The board president expressed strong disappointment over these funding cuts, describing them as a direct hit to the district’s finances, especially following the passage of a local referendum meant to bolster school funding.

The board also delved into the intricacies of the budget, which included a 2.9 million increase in the general fund but was offset by the aforementioned state aid reduction. With expenditures encompassing employee salaries and benefits, transportation, facilities, and special education, the board found itself constrained by a 2% cap on tax levy increases. This cap was especially burdensome when viewed against the backdrop of inflation rates and contractual obligations.

In an effort to balance the budget, reductions were made to salary lines, building, and curriculum allocations. However, the board allocated funds for the addition of staff for an Autism class and planned for technology and security upgrades. Significant capital projects were also on the agenda, including HVAC repairs, field lighting at the high school, and other facility improvements, funded by a capital reserve withdrawal of 3.25 million. These projects would be partially supported through a collaboration with the township, as seen with the tennis court repaving at Amsterdam Elementary School.

The board faced difficult decisions in light of the drastic state aid cuts and was urged by the board president to reach out to legislators to advocate for additional state aid for the district. A representative made a plea for legislative action and community support to address the budgetary challenges, highlighting the advocacy efforts of the Hillsboro Education Association and Assemblyman Fryman.

During public comments, individuals expressed gratitude for the collaborative efforts in addressing the budget issues. They emphasized the challenges brought on by growing housing development and the impact on school funding. One board member shared their disbelief at the disparities in funding between Hillsborough and neighboring districts, noting the unfair burden on local residents. The sentiment of wanting a more sustainable budget solution was echoed by another board member, who also voiced reluctance to support a tentative budget that could negatively impact the district.

Accountability was a recurring theme throughout the meeting. A board member sought clarity on who was taking responsibility for the financial challenges faced by the district, pushing for transparency in financial decisions, and referencing a previous expenditure on a speaker system as a point of contention.

In the face of these challenges, the board emphasized the need for collaboration and described the budget as a work in progress. Despite the budgetary debates, various motions related to education, human resources, and operations were approved. There was also a policy and regulations discussion, resulting in the passage of motions with one abstention on a specific item.

Additional topics covered in the meeting included a teacher and a retiree expressing their views on the budget process during the public comment period. The community’s role in supporting the district was recognized, and the superintendent and union were thanked for striving towards a common goal. The robotics team’s achievements and the issue of bathroom accessibility at the high school were also highlighted.

Note: This meeting summary was generated by AI, which can occasionally misspell names, misattribute actions, and state inaccuracies. This summary is intended to be a starting point and you should review the meeting record linked above before acting on anything you read. If we got something wrong, let us know. We’re working every day to improve our process in pursuit of universal local government transparency.
Michael J. Volpe
School Board Officials:
Paul Marini, Cynthia Nurse, Joel Davis, Elaine Jackson, Cassandra Kragh, Allison Laning-Beder, Danny Lee, Jane Staats, Jean Trujillo

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