The Hopewell Valley Regional School District Board of Education passed the District’s annual budget amidst uncertainty of the coronavirus’s impact on students, finances, and funding.
“We’ve done our best developing this budget going forward knowing we have a lot of uncertainties in the year to come,” Superintendent Dr. Thomas Smith said. “You have a lot of people on the board looking to balance the needs of the taxpayer with the needs of our students with an uncertain future. I think this budget provides all of those things as best as we possibly can.”
Board Vice President Adam Sawicki, who emphasized that his statements do not reflect the opinion of the Board, additionally outlined some of the uncertainties that Smith discussed. “In terms of [the coronavirus’s] impact on the actual budget and expenses, my answer is that I’m not sure,” Sawicki said in an email exchange with MercerMe. “I’d assume that since we haven’t run buses since mid-March, except to deliver meals, we didn’t need to climate control the buildings for students, and we haven’t run field trips and other activities, there should be some savings available. However, those numbers haven’t been quantified to date.”
Smith’s presentation to the Board highlighted potential expenses for when students return to school, such as possible smaller class sizes to enforce social distancing, continuation of split programs between in-school and home teaching for students unable to return to school, or the need for more protective gear and sanitation equipment for staff and students. However, as Sawicki outlined, those expenses could break even with savings in other areas.
As previously reported by MercerMe, there had been some concern that the district’s budget could be impacted by a possible delay of property tax payments. Last month, the Board voiced unanimous opposition to Bill 3902, which would allow a delay in tax payments to the District. As of now, a municipality collecting school taxes may not delay its payment even if it allows taxpayers a grace period in paying them. According to School Business Administrator and Board Secretary Robert Colavita, there are currently no indications that school funding will be impacted and the budget was developed with “business as usual” in mind, according to Smith.
According to Colavita, the budget includes a $82,168,163 total tax levy, or money funded to the school from taxes, up from last year’s $81,215,296. This is a 1.17 percent tax levy increase, compared to last school year’s 4.95 percent increase, largely driven by normal increases in salary and healthcare, with the budget maintaining all existing programs and services as the budget passed last school year.
Sawicki, speaking for himself and not the Board, outlined that despite the complications from the pandemic, such as forcing the Board to meet virtually, the budgeting process began much earlier, with discussions starting July of last year. This, according to Sawicki, meant “the Board gained a deeper understanding and included others much earlier than in years past,” with work sessions in March including local municipal representatives and the Mercer County tax assessor being “extremely beneficial.”
The Board unanimously passed the budget for an unusual school year moving into even more uncertain times.