HILLSBOROUGH: School district introduces tentative 2018-19 budget

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Homeowners in both Hillsborough and Millstone should anticipate an increase in their taxes next year, after Hillsborough Township Public School District officials outlined a tentative $129.8 million budget for the 2018-19 school year.

Announced during the school board meeting Monday night, the proposed budget marks a $1.4 million increase over the 2017-18 budget of $128.3 million.

In order to support the district’s proposed budget, officials said just over $97 million will be collected from Hillsborough taxpayers. The proposed tax levy marks a 3.62 percent increase from last year’s total of $93.6 million.

Taxpayers in Millstone who send their children to the Hillsborough Township School District will also see an increase in their school tax levy from $937,312 for the 2017-18 school year to a proposed $973,336 for 2018-19, marking a 3.84 percent increase.

Just as in previous years, Superintendent Dr. Jorden Schiff said the proposed increases generally stemmed from a number of areas, including expected salary increases, healthcare costs, special education and transportation costs.

Regardless, Schiff outlined that the district spends approximately $750 less per pupil than the state average.

“If we spend what the state average is, we would have to raise our budget an additional $5.4 million,” he said.

As a result of the aforementioned rising costs, the proposed tax rate in Hillsborough will go from $1.605 per $100 of assessed property value for the 2017-18 school year to $1.607 per $100 of assessed property value for the 2018-19 school year.

If a household’s value was set at $400,000 for both years, a homeowner would have paid $6,420 for the 2017-18 school year and $6,428 for the proposed 2018-19 school tax rate.

The average home in Hillsborough is assessed at $389,303. If the home’s assessed value was the same last year, that homeowner would see their school tax bill increase from $6,248 for the 2017-18 school year to $6,256 for the 2018-19 school year.

The tax rate in Millstone will also see an increase, going from $1.750 per $100 of assessed property for 2017-18 to a proposed $1.826 per $100 of assessed property for 2018-19.

If a home in Millstone is assessed at $400,000 for both years, a homeowner could expect to pay $7,000 in the 2017-18 school year and $7,304 for the proposed 2018-19 school budget, marking an increase of $304.

Along with the increase in tax revenue, Schiff is also asking the board to consider taking the healthcare waiver, covering $1.7 million.

According to the proposed budget, the district’s general fund would increase by $2.5 million, from $122.6 million in 2017-18 to $125.2 million in 2018-19, while the district’s grants and entitlements fund could tentatively see a 14.8 percent reduction from $1.98 million to nearly $1.7 million.

The budget also sees a 21 percent reduction to the district’s repayment of the debt fund, going from $3.7 million to $2.9 million in the proposed budget.

Earlier this month, the district received $25 million in state aid, staying relatively consistent with previous budgets.

Schiff said Hillsborough was “one of the few districts in New Jersey that received very, very little additional state aid.”

“For the past seven years, for all intents and purposes, Hillsborough’s state aid has been flat while costs continue to increase,” Schiff said. “That creates a great deal of pressure on our district and on the local taxpayers.”

Schiff said the proposed budget will provide new materials for social studies, additional supplies and curriculum writing and training, among other things.

In addition, the district will also budget for additional security investments to the tune of $50,000, though how that money will be spent has not yet been determined. Schiff said the district will defer to experts for suggestions.

Schiff also outlined additional personnel covered in the current budget that will transition into the next budget: two special education teachers, a half-time preschool teacher, nine full-time equivalent instructional assistants and a half-time school nurse.

“These are positions that were budgeted for that were necessary because of individual student needs,” Schiff said. “That’s a lot of positions that need to roll over from this year into next year.”

A handful of newly budgeted positions are included in the 2018-19 budget: one special education teacher, one and a half instructional assistants, one student assistance counselor and one HVAC maintenance specialist.

The last two positions were of particular importance to the district, Schiff said, as they address specific needs.

“We heard a great deal of public comment about [a new SAC] and we’re trying to be responsive to the needs that have been addressed by our community,” Schiff said.

As for the HVAC maintenance specialist, Schiff said the need sprung from previous incidents where failing heat and air conditioning systems created difficult situations for students, staff and teachers. Once hired, the HVAC maintenance position will specialize in the district’s heating and air conditioning needs.

“We are spending a good deal contracting out a lot of those services and we’re hoping that the position will help us with more preventative maintenance work,” Schiff said.

That being said, the district will lose four teachers at Hillsborough High School and one transitional primary teacher. The superintendent said he hoped that the district would be able to avoid outright firing those positions.

“We’re going to try to deal with these reductions through attrition,” Schiff said. “We can’t guarantee that, though we anticipate that that’s how this is going to go.”

The budget will be voted on by the school board during the April 30 meeting.