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Howell school board president hopes to refresh district’s strategic plan

HOWELL – The Howell K-8 School District Board of Education is considering refreshing its strategic plan moving forward as it prepares for a reduction in the district’s state aid.

Under the initial funding proposal outlined by Gov. Phil Murphy in March, Howell was scheduled to receive $33.54 million in state aid for the 2018-19 school year. Using that number, the board and administration crafted and adopted a $123.8 million budget.

In July, after negotiating changes in New Jersey’s school funding law with leaders in the state Legislature, Murphy issued revised state aid amounts. Howell saw its aid for 2018-19 reduced to $32.63 million – a cut of $913,973 – and board members had to take action to adjust the budget as a result of that reduction.

The bill Murphy signed into law on July 24 is expected to continue to reduce the district’s state aid through 2024-25, when Howell would receive $22.53 million – a reduction of $10.1 million from the amount the district will receive for 2018-19.

During an Aug. 22 meeting, board President Tim O’Brien said he believes it is essential to accelerate the district’s focus on strategic planning due to the challenges the district will face over the next few years.

“The strategic plan we have in place does not necessarily need to be thrown out and rebuilt from scratch,” he said.

O’Brien asked the board to authorize the Professional Learning Committee to “go back and begin the process of structuring a timetable to refresh” the strategic plan.

Revisions to the strategic plan will be “a recognition of new realities and the challenges this district faces from a state funding point of view, as well as many other things that have developed over the years,” he said.

O’Brien said that does not mean the developments are necessarily negative, because he said the district has already achieved so many incredible outcomes.

Board member Al Miller asked if refreshing the strategic plan would still include citizens and O’Brien said it was his understanding the effort would have “the full engagement of a number of members of the staff and community.”

O’Brien said it should be a “wonderful process” that should produce “great ideas.”

“As we talked about in the past, we love divergent ideas as well as group think. We want to avoid group think although it happens to the best of us. We have folks here who embrace the idea of working with divergent ideas that can be creative and constructive. So that process should yield some incredible results,” he said.

O’Brien said he knows spending will be a priority in the district during the next few years.

“One thing that is going to be faced over the next seven years, and we will talk more about this when we get more clarity on the impact (of the reduction in state aid), is the fact that while there are still opportunities, the board has made some appeals through channels for relief on some of the (state aid) cuts. We are exploring every avenue we can and we are very happy to do so because that is our responsibility to our community and our kids,” he said.

O’Brien said it will be a “heavy lift” over the next seven years, but he said the most important thing will be for the board to provide, maintain and protect the quality of education the board has established over the last decade.

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