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At Monday night’s Hopewell Valley Regional School District school board meeting, the board approved the district’s preliminary budget for the 2016-2017 school year. The budget boasts a 0.7% total tax levy and 0.8% general fund increase, the lowest of both in the district’s history. The bulk of the budget (75%) is attributed to salaries and health benefits to staff members, 16% being to special education and transportation, spanning the 62-square mile school district, counts for 5%.

“These are difficult times in education and we have tried to be respectful of our taxpayers and deliver a budget that is responsible but that provides us with the things the community has grown accustomed to,” said HVRSD Superintendent Tom Smith. “We thinks this is a very responsible budget while maintaining or improving programs, student achievement, and opportunities.”

The budget, just as last year, is well below the 2% cap and HVRSD will likely again be the only district in the County below the 2%. (For Dr. Smith’s presentation, please click this link.)

“Because we have been coming in under cap, we are generating a ‘banked cap,'” explained Smith. “We can bank for up to 3 years and this provides additional leeway to go above cap. Many districts in the county are not only going to cap, but using their banked cap. We are building this for a rainy-day fund should it be necessary.”

“And we are hoping it won’t be necessary,” added HVSD Board of Education President Lisa Wolff. “If the referendum doesn’t go through we could use the banked cap.”

The board discussed budget ramifications should the referendum not pass on September 27, 2016 because capital projects have been removed from the budget in anticipation of the referendum.

“On subsequent budgets, we would need to start putting the projects in without the 40% reimbursement so the full amount goes into the budget,” explained Smith. “The changes still have to be done. It is not ha matter of if, it is a matter of when.”

“The referendum is the least expensive from a tax payer’s standpoint because we are getting back 14 million dollars,” said school board member Roy Dollard. “If the community turns down the referendum they may then become sensitive about what the results will do for the budget. It might change what the public thinks.”

“To get 35 million dollars worth of projects done, you couldn’t do it within the 2% cap ever,” said school board member and Finance and Facilities Committee member Michael Markulec. “And the safety and security projects would probably never get done — we would have to focus on the ‘necessary.’ But we are continuing to work to minimize tax impacts including non-standard financing that would greatly minimize tax impacts on tax payers. With the referendum, this is the right way to go.”

Within the current budget, all existing student programs and services are maintained, including expanding the “1:1 program” (see Timberlane 8th Grade Laptop Pilot a Success, Says HVRSD) and chrome-books will be available from grades 6-12.

“Desktops are not cost effective. Three chrome books cost the same as one desktop,” explained Smith. “Because they are wireless, this also reduces the hardware and maintenance costs.”

The board also addressed the affect of average class sizes and enrollment on the budget. “Enrollment is shifting and we are doing our best to keep balance between the schools,” said Smith. “As we move forward, the board will continue discussions with working through class sizes and looking at that balance. However, having said this, our class sizes are still very favorable in comparison to surrounding districts including high performing districts.”

With a unanimous vote of board approval, the budget will be sent to the County for approval. On April 18th, the community will have another opportunity to weigh-in regarding the budget and the final adoption will been April 25, 2016.

“We would like to strongly encourage members of the community with thoughts or comments to come to the April 18th meeting,” said Wolff.

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