Tears Flow As Hillsborough Proposes Staff Cuts In School Budget
Tears Flow As Hillsborough Proposes Staff Cuts In School Budget

Tears Flow As Hillsborough Proposes Staff Cuts In School Budget

HILLSBOROUGH, NJ — Superintendent Michael Volpe along with Board members could not hold back their intense emotions and tears on Monday night as they discussed the harmful impacts the loss of $2.7 million state aid is causing to their district.

“When I first ran [for a school board seat] it was because of the teacher cuts… That craziness is why I ran for the Board. And I promised myself when I ran I would never allow that to happen under my watch and that’s been taken out of my hands unfortunately,” said Board President Paul Marini. “A failure from the state, a failure from our legislatures, not protecting this district. If you look at Hillsborough as compared to the rest of our county as our superintendent has said over and over again. It is ridiculous how much money we have lost. It’s embarrassing.”

Marini pointed to the $2.8 million referendum that was recently approved by taxpayers, to create a security department and add staffing at the school district, and also to the $2.7 million cut in state cut in funding to the district.

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“I moved to the town because of the district and the education it provides and to see our numbers cut almost exactly the amount of our referendum that passed seems pointed and directed and a shot at the district. I am very upset. We will have to approve a temporary budget because that’s our requirement and our duty as elected officials. But this drives me nuts. I love the teachers in our district and the last thing I want to do is to see any of them go,” said Marini as his voice cracked and he became emotional.

Volpe stressed that the budget presented on Monday is tentative and will look very different than the final budget since he only had a short amount of time to adjust following the news of the funding loss on Feb. 29.

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“No one can prepare for that. I don’t care how good of a budget manager I am. Nobody can prepare that the cut is going to be 1,000 percent higher than you had thought,” said Volpe.

The proposed budget of $145,618,829 for the 2024-25 school year is an increase of just over 2 percent or roughly $2.9 million over the 2023-24 budget of $142,705,863.

The average home property in Hillsborough Township valued at $547,355 will pay $7,385 in 2024 which is a tax decrease of 2.98 percent. The average home property in Millstone valued at $396,255 will pay $3,411 in 2024 which is a tax decrease of 4.79 percent.

School Business Administrator Gerald Eckert noted the district asked for a waiver to exceed the 2 percent cap by $777,806 due to the rise in health benefit costs.

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Aside from the state aid, the main drivers of the budget are salaries and benefits, transportation, out-of-district tuition, and buildings and grounds.

“Every single factor is working against us. Inflation is working against us. The consumer price index is working against us. Contractual obligations in health care financially are working against us. Then we got the state aid… Something has got to give. This is not sustainable and not something that can be done over time. We have these shackles on us,” said Volpe.

To adjust for the loss in state aid, Eckert noted the district would be reducing their salary lines. The exact positions will be identified over the next few weeks before the April 29 final budget meeting.

While the number of positions slated to be cut has not been made clear, Volpe noted that looking at the number of positions to be added under the passed referendum may give a clue.

Under the referendum, the district was adding a security supervisor and nine security officers along with 20 additional staff to reduce class sizes and add program offerings.

“We are being forced to make difficult decisions to build as responsible a budget as possible due to the drastic state aid cuts and increases in healthcare costs,” said Eckert.

The budget also includes a $3.25 million withdrawal from the capital reserve budget which can only be used for capital projects. Those projects include:

A vote and public hearing on the final budget is scheduled for April 29.

Since the S2 state school funding formula began the Hillsborough School District has lost a cumulative $7 million since the 2018-19 school year.

Assemblyman Roy Freiman(D-16), who was at the meeting, said the S2 formula “is broken.”

“This formula is not transparent, it doesn’t give you the ability to plan, it’s unpredictable and it can not continue. We are pushing along with you,” said Freiman, who has been working with Volpe and school officials to help get more funding.

“To see what the State has done is putting such a burden on our schools, our staff, our children, and taxpayers,” said Board Vice President Cynthia Nurse.

Volpe teared up as he shared a story about the success of his 23-year-old son who went through the Hillsborough school system. He said because of the district his son has excelled and is now working at the Senate Armed Services Committee.

“I want to produce more students with the profile of my son and have students excel to whatever potentiality that they have. And I need resources to do it,” said Volpe.

See the full tentative budget presentation below:

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