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Hopewell Valley’s school district braces for loss in state aid

Hopewell Valley Regional School district signage in Pennington.

The coronavirus pandemic continued to alter school budgets when Gov. Phil Murphy announced a $335 million reduction in school aid from the proposed 2020 state budget.

As the Murphy administration released specific figures on May 25, Hopewell Valley Regional School District was one of the districts receiving a reduction.

The school district’s state aid will drop from $4.02 million to $3.73 million, a decrease of $291,000.

According to district administration, they did foresee the possibility of a loss in school aid due to the pandemic.

“The district believed that a reduction in school aid would be made once the impact of COVID-19 was realized by the state. We believed a larger reduction would be announced and are still bracing for additional cuts over the summer,” Superintendent of Schools Thomas Smith said. “Until the appropriations act is signed, the revised state aid is not finalized. Should the reduction stand the district will have to address the $291,000 loss in state aid.”

He added he is confident that small reductions in many areas can mitigate the current reduction they are facing.

“For example, I am anticipating a reduced premium increase in property and casualty insurance due to COVID-19 similar to what people have been experiencing with their own insurance coverages,” Smith said. “No programs will experience a significant impact.”

When the Hopewell Valley Regional Board of Education adopted the district’s $92.3 million budget for the 2020-21 school year in April, the budget proposed a reduction of four full-time teachers (two from the K-5 level and two from Hopewell Valley Central High School), one administrative position and one secretary’s position.

Smith said the district does not anticipate making additional staff reductions with the loss in aid.

“At this time, we do not plan on making reductions to staff but will continue to monitor our class sizes and specific needs of students to determine the appropriate level of staffing for September,” he said. “We will be examining any request to replace retiring or leaving staff members closely as we normally do.”

The district has established a Return to School Committee to deal with the potential additional costs of COVID-19 with the uncertainty of next year’s return to school.

“We are identifying areas where additional costs may occur such as the purchase of personal protective equipment, disinfectant products, additional materials for the support of remote learning should we have to continue with that in some format, transportation and food service,” Smith said. “As in standard operating procedure, we will continue to closely monitor our purchasing and look for savings and reductions that can help address areas where additional support is needed.”

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