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Last night, the Hopewell Valley Regional School District Superintendent Dr. Tom Smith presented the district’s draft budget for the school year 2015-2016 to the HVRSD school board.

The budget proposes a .9% increase, the first increase below 1% in the district in recent history, according Superintendent Dr. Smith.

Certainly, the biggest news to come out of the draft budget was that the district will be proposing, in the budget, full-day no-fee kindergarten for all kindergarteners starting fall of 2015.

“Often budgets come down to dollars and cents, but this is also a discussion about what we value. We talked a lot about full-day kindergarten through the budget planning process and the school board has indicated that it has been the plan long-term,” said HVRSD Superintendent Dr. Tom Smith. “I want to thank the board — it has been a group effort to make this happen for September.”

Full-day kindergarten has been part of the planning buzz since the HVRSD “Future Planning Committee” recommended implementing full-day kindergarten as part of the solution to the underenrollment issue in the district last year.

Supporters of equal full-day kindergarten for all students were in attendance at last night’s meeting and cheered when Dr. Smith announced that a 1/2 day option would be off the table and would be replaced with full-day kindergarten for all incoming students this fall.

“We have appreciated you listening to us in this whole process. Thank you,” said Nancy Andreski, a local parent and organizer of the “Equal Access to Full Day Kindergarten in Hopewell” FaceBook group.

But the presentation was not just about kindergarten. The district identified successes — including the high number of high school AP and Honors students who are performing well — and laid out values and priorities including for academic and facility planning.

The district and school board discussed plans to expand the current 1:1 technology program (click for MercerMe article) with long-term plans to ultimately have a technological device for each child from 5th to 12th grades. The purpose of the 1:1 is to encourage “inquiry based learning” however some board members questioned whether there is enough data to support the correlation of increased technology access and improved learning.

“We are wrapping up a successful year-one for the 8th grade students in the laptop program. All the feedback has been extremely positive and the momentum moving in the right direction,” said Human Resource Director* Anthony Suozzo.  “We held several comparison classes to determine the difference and saw that the collaboration and critical thinking was higher in the 1:1 class rather than the one without the technology.”

The district also hopes to expand STEM classes into high school and a performing arts program into the middle school.

Another issue of concern raised by school board members was whether adequate funds have been set aside for facility repairs. Currently, the district estimates  between 6-8 million worth of roof replacement/repair district-wide.

“We acknowledge there are many projects that need to be done. With all that we have asked of the tax payers in the past few years, the board thought that this was a good year to take a breather,” explained school board vice-president Leigh Ann Peterson, “There was not room in the budget to make much of a dent.”

At the school board meeting next Monday, the district will ask the school board to vote on the proposed budget, then the board will be asked to approve the final budget and lastly the budget will be submitted to the County.

UPDATE: originally published that article with incorrect job title for Anthony Suozzo.

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Mary Galioto
Mary Galioto is the founder, publisher and editor of MercerMe, and a lawyer. Originally from Brooklyn, Mary has progressively moved deeper and deeper into New Jersey, settling in the heart of the state: Mercer County. Formerly the author of an embarrassingly informal blog, Mary is a lifelong writer and asker of questions and was even mentioned, albeit briefly, in the New York Times and Washington Post. In her free time, Mary fills her life with excessive self-reflection, photographing mushrooms, and misguided adventures in random hobbies. Mary also works as the PR Coordinator at the Hopewell Valley Arts Council, serves on the volunteer Board of Trustees of the Lawrence Hopewell Trail (LHT), serves on the Hopewell Borough Board of Health, is a member of the Hopewell Valley Municipal Alliance, and holds the elected position as the Hopewell Borough Democratic Committee Municipal Chairwoman.

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