The Hopewell Valley Regional District Board of Education discussed the District’s transition to remote learning, commended staff, students and parents, and worked on the upcoming budget in its virtual, mid-April meeting.
The virtual meeting opened with Board President Deborah Linthorst offering thanks and words of reassurance to the community’s teachers, parents, and students amidst the sudden shift to remote learning.
“Given the times we are living in, there’s a lot of thank yous to share,” Linthorst said, calling the District’s transition to remote learning “smooth and swift.”
“There will be continued hurdles to overcome and we need to be patient with each other,” Linthorst continued. “We know how difficult these days can be. Please know that we are working with the District to support you along the way.” She additionally noted that there is “much uncertainty” about when schools will reopen but reassured that the District is “well-positioned” when they do.
Linthorst then read a letter presented from the Board to the District’s staff, expressing members’ appreciation for staff’s continued resilience and adaptivity in a constantly changing pandemic. “As we continue to work together toward this new normalcy of remote learning, please know that we recognize your efforts,” Linthorst said. “We support you as you strive to provide meaningful instruction to students and do the work of this District.”
Superintendent Thomas Smith, in his report, noted the issues with remote learning but described Hopewell Valley as “ahead of the curve” on the shift.
Smith discussed the “one-for-one” initiative, with every student in grades six to 12 being provided with a Chromebook. Additionally, according to Smith, students in grades three to five were sent home with Chromebooks when schools closed and another 150 Chromebooks were delivered to Kindergarten through second grade students during the first two weeks of the closure.
Smith recognized the donation of more than 1,000 protective shields made by Hopewell Valley alumni Josh Wilson using the District’s 3D-printers, which were donated by the Hopewell Valley Education Foundation. To date, according to Smith, the District has received requests for 3,000 shields.
Additionally, Smith discussed contingency plans for end-of-year events, such as prom and graduation. According to Smith, if students are able to return to school on May 18, junior prom and the academic awards ceremony will be postponed, while the senior prom, senior awards ceremony, senior athletic banquet, and graduation would proceed as normal.
However, if students are not permitted to return to school, most events would be postponed until June or July or cancelled entirely. Graduation, for example, could be held on June 18 or July 18, depending on what restrictions are in place. Award ceremonies, such as the senior awards or senior academic banquet, would have their awards sent out virtually.
The Board discussed the year’s budget, with the public hearing set for next week. School Business Administrator and Board Secretary Robert Colavita noted that the State and County have urged school districts to develop the budget as “business as usual,” without sudden changes due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Smith noted that what could be seen as perceived savings due to the current situation, such as a reduction in transportation expenses, could be a wash with other expenses, like increased remedial learning in the summer.
“A lot of things are up in the air as we stand today,” Smith said. “To date, we’re not recommending any changes in our budgeting.”
The Board discussed Bill 3902, currently circulating in the State Legislature, which would allow municipalities to delay property tax payments to school districts in a time of crisis. According to Linthorst, property taxes in most districts constitute 60 percent of their budget, while 92 percent of Hopewell Valley’s budget consists of property taxes. A letter of opposition to the bill, unanimously approved by the Board, was sent to New Jersey State Senator Shirley Turner and other political officials in the State.
“It would be a significant issue for us if we don’t receive our payments on time,” Linthorst said, stating that the Bill would cause a “financial crisis” for the District and could “seriously disrupt the education process.”
According to Colavita, the Board will not recommend any changes to its current budget in light of the coronavirus pandemic or potential legislation. Colavita further explained “There’s no indication that there’s going to be any cuts to this year’s State aid.”
The Board will hold a remote Public Hearing on the budget on Monday, April 27. To access the meeting, please visit the BOE agenda website https://go.boarddocs.com/nj/hvrsd/Board.nsf/Public#tab-meetings.