I still remember the summer of my third grade at Tollgate Grammar school. That was the year that an entire bus route of children were redistricted into my life. I don’t recall it being that big of a deal – but apparently it was. Since then, someone in my family has been a pupil at each of the Hopewell Valley Regional School District schools (okay, except Stony Brook Elementary – but in my defense that didn’t exist at the time) – and I was the only one who didn’t have to switch midway for one reason or another.
If you live in Hopewell Valley – get ready for another round. Enrollment is declining and projected to continue in that direction. From a peak in 2006 of over 4000 students that lead to the construction of our 4th elementary school, the K-12 population has dipped almost 10%. While apparently not “sciency” enough for the demographers to confirm fully, if one were to just project this year’s 223 kindergarteners on through to their senior year (the class of 2014 will graduate around 300 – about 35% more) we’re looking at less than 2900 total students when that class graduates.
Declining enrollment brings some really obvious, and some not so obvious challenges. At a series of public meetings, HVRSD superintendent Tom Smith is getting the word out that our community has some decisions to make. I and a couple dozen other people attended a public meeting on what is in store on Wednesday at Hopewell Elementary. Similar (and by similar – I mean exactly the same – by design) presentations will be made four more times in January. You can view of PDF of his powerpoint presentation here if you can’t make one in person.
Perhaps facilities will be changed, maybe school coverage will be shifted for better “balancing,” potentially we could see magnate schools or K-3, 4-5 etc. models – it’s all on the table and at this point not at all clear where the Board will take this, if anywhere. What is clear, is that by fall of 2014, our School Board will make a decision to do something or nothing. The Board has not decided anything yet – and will be seeking input from the community. That means, for example, that the rumors of XYZ school being put up for sale, closed, or turned into condos – are just that. Rumors. It hasn’t been decided. Relax – for now.
The District is setting up a committee made up of representatives of each of the three municipalities and all six schools. This might be where there is some room for an improved plan, because that committee will be formed at random, Hunger Games style. Put your name in the hat by emailing your name and phone number to firstname.lastname@example.org [changed and confirmed; as of 12pm 12/19/13 this email is up and running] and in February during a videotaped PowerBall-style drawing, the committee will be formed. While the winners of this lottery won’t have the misfortune of having to fight to the death for their town’s school or be stoned, I don’t necessarily believe random selection will capture the talent and diversity that Hopewell Valley has to offer.
Input will be collected, but the decision will ultimately be one for the elected School Board in the fall. Right now – the district is in the early phases of getting the word out – but once the real discussion starts, it will be very important to make your voice heard about what happens next. There will be no referendum. There is no approval of the plan by the municipal governments. The State and the County don’t have a meaningful say in this. It’s our decision – through our School Board representatives. For a community not yet used to our new November school board election cycle and the corresponding removal of the springtime public yes/no vote on the school budgets, this might be a tough pill to swallow – but the only way to swallow it is through participation. You don’t need to be elected (trust me on this one!) to have a “vote” on this – public participation, public comment at public meetings and the political process is where we exercise our opinions now.
Let’s get to it.