School Board names new president, will consider redistricting if enrollment grows

Anita Williams Galiano

The Hopewell Valley Regional School Board has seen quite a bit of turnover in the wake of the hard work COVID-19 required of its members. January has brought a reshuffling of positions and the naming of new officers:  Anita Williams Galiano was elected president and Andrea Driver will be vice president. New committee assignments can be found here.

In an email to MercerMe, Williams Galiano expressed her commitment and optimism for the Board’s work. She said “As community members committed to investing in the community, our attention will naturally focus on what sustains that community’s future. With that focus is a deep need for conversations and investments in and around children. Ensuring we are keeping them safe, educating them, and growing them into bright creatives, talents, and leaders becomes a mission.

“The Mission of the HVRSD imbibes all of that and more. It is that mission that called me to run for the Hopewell Valley School Board, and it is what makes me most honored to be elected this year’s School Board President.  As the HVRSD partners with the Hopewell Township Committee’s plans for community housing expansion, I believe 2023 will become a pivotal year of work and planning to ensure we pave the way for our excellent educational system to grow and thrive along with our Township as we welcome more children and their families.

“Hopewell Township is fortunate to have a fantastic slate of board members, a responsive and effective administration, and a commitment to partnership with our Township Committee. We have collaborative work to be done, and I am ready for it!”

Williams Galiano comments come on the heels of news announced at a January 18 special BOE meeting that Hopewell Valley Regional School District may need to make space for about 430 additional students over the course of the next decade, growth that will primarily impact the elementary schools; Bear Tavern in particular, according to a recently completed population study.

The study, commissioned by the District in partnership with Hopewell Township, was spurred by residents’ concerns that new housing developments in the Township will disrupt class sizes or lead to higher property taxes if school buildings need to be expanded. Three major developments have been approved in Hopewell Township, which will add 1,756 additional units of housing to the community.

Architecture and design firm SLAM, who conducted the study, drew on population, home sales, birth rate, and development data to project a median growth estimate of 430 additional students. On the high end, District enrollment could grow by 700 students over the next 10 years, and on the low end, it would remain close to current levels.

The District will likely be able to get by shuffling students around and making better use of existing spaces, at least in the near term. Superintendent Dr. Rosetta Treece explained during a virtual presentation recently that it is too soon to discuss whether the District would consider redistricting and that any such move would be preceded by additional studies on transportation and building usage. Still, she said, redistricting is preferable to construction.

“The first plan of attack before building a whole new school, of course, would be probably to redistrict, to send some students off to where there is space in the District to maintain class sizes as best we can — and then look to build onto Bear Tavern, and there were initial plans for that,” Treece said.

Further in the 10-year horizon, the projections suggest that Bear Tavern will require expansion to accommodate additional students, or those children will need to be sent elsewhere. The school population is projected to grow by 19% over the next five years, and 8% in the following five. Stony Brook and Toll Gate also may see growth at about 15% over the next five years before growth tapers off. Hopewell Elementary, the remaining primary school in the District, is only expected to grow by 4% in the next five years, primarily because the new housing developments are in the southern portion of the District.

Enrollment at the middle and high schools is expected to remain close to current levels and below historic highs, so neither of those campuses seem likely to require expansion. Currently, 3,423 students are enrolled throughout the District — down 7% from 3,683 in the 2013-14 school year.

“There is room for growth. [in the middle and high schools]. We’ve had more students in our schools [in the past], and we were comfortably housing those students over the last decades,” said Robert Colavita, the District’s assistant superintendent for business.

Treece and Colavita said there isn’t enough information to say whether any of these trends will impact property taxes, and Treece added that the District is working with the Township “to make sure this has the least impact on the community fiscally.”

The Board plans to make the presentation and a Q&A based on the questions asked in the live chat available online.

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