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Hillsborough school board lays off staff as 2019-20 budget is adopted

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The Hillsborough Township Public Schools Board of Education has adopted a $130.3 million budget to fund the operation of the school district during the 2019-20 school year.

The budget includes the layoff of 37 staff members.

Following a public hearing on the budget, board members voted 7-2 to adopt the funding plan.

Board President Judith Haas, Vice President Lorraine Soisson and board members Joyce Eldridge-Howard, Gregory Gillette, Ann Harris, Lisa Maroun and Christopher Pulsifer voted “yes” on a motion to adopt the 2019-20 budget.

Board members Jane Staats and Jean Trujillo voted “no” on the motion to adopt the budget.

“No matter where we make cuts, there will be a negative impact. There are areas that are non-personnel items that could have had less of a negative impact other than cutting teachers and increasing class sizes,” Staats said. “There are many items that are nice to have, but not must haves. There is no wiggle room when it comes to teachers. Class sizes have been too high for years, especially in elementary grades. We should be hiring more teachers.”

Trujillo explained that she could not support the budget because it does not contain a long-term strategy.

“We are just trimming a little bit here and there. What really disturbs me is the areas that we are trimming are core subject areas,” she said. “If we pass the budget as it has been crafted, next year at this time we will be in the exact same position. We will just be cutting some more,”

District administrators said 37 staff members would not have their contracts renewed for 2019-20.

“These 37 people have worked extraordinarily hard for the district. They have dedicated themselves to the children and their profession,” Superintendent of Schools Jorden Schiff said. “It is a sad thing to say goodbye to so many good quality people who through no fault of their own will not have a position here next year.”

Schiff said in order to maintain class sizes, staffing levels and fee structures, administrators had to spend an additional $5 million over current budget levels.

“Cost drivers are salaries, benefits, special education and transportation. This year we lost a great deal of revenue. We were not able to take the same amount from the healthcare waiver, the fund balance (surplus) was depleted and we are losing state aid,” Schiff reported.

According to the state Department of Education, the school district’s state aid will be reduced from $24.93 million in 2018-19 to $24.4 million in 2019-20 – a reduction of $526,000.

District administrators said the school tax rates for 2019-20 are projected to be $1.65 per $100 of assessed valuation in Hillsborough Township and $1.88 per $100 of assessed valuation in Millstone Borough.

With a $1.65 tax rate in place, the owner of a home in Hillsborough that is assessed at $400,000 would pay $6,600 in school taxes in the upcoming year.

With a $1.88 tax rate in place, the owner of a home in Millstone that is assessed at $425,00 would pay $7,990 in school taxes in the upcoming year.

School taxes are one item on a property owner’s tax bill. Property owners also pay municipal taxes and county taxes.

The amount of taxes an individual pays is determined by the assessed value of his home and/or property and the tax rate that is set by each taxing entity.

Schiff said administrators needed $135 million to maintain programs and personnel. He said an $8 million referendum that was defeated by voters in March would have provided the funding administrators needed to maintain programs and personnel.

According to Schiff, the consequences of the failed referendum will be –in the future — the eventual reduction of 50 staff positions, an increase in fees in the areas of technology, co-curricular athletics and building use. There will also be a decrease in courtesy busing.

Staff reductions consist of seven positions in technology; eight clerk and secretarial positions; two administrative positions; 29 teaching positions; two buildings and grounds positions; and two other positions, bringing the total to 50.

The increase in fees is anticipated to increase revenue by about $600,000, which will save eight positions, according to Schiff.

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