The Hopewell Valley Regional School District (HVRSD) has experienced a decline in student enrollment since the 2009-10 school year.
HVRSD’s total student enrollment has declined from 3,946 students (2009-10) to 3,364 students (2020-21) – a decrease of 582 students.
Superintendent of Schools Thomas Smith said that there are two big reasons for the decline.
“One is a decrease in birth rate, and this is across the state and the country. People are just having less kids and particularly a lot of higher income area families are not only having children later but also having fewer children,” he said. “The other thing is Brandon Farms, that big mega-development that came online [in Pennington], those children are really aged out, so when you typically build a big development you typically have a big influx of children and then you do not have the same replacement year after year.”
He added that no new construction drives a lot of the reason for not seeing a maintained enrollment or increase.
“Look at the districts that are increasing or have increased (Robbinsville, West Windsor) [they] have new construction that brings in new and younger families typically,” Smith said. “I understand home sales are up and schools are a reason people are deciding to live here, so we take that responsibility and welcome all of the new families and are excited for them to come in.”
The HVRSD is a pre-K-12 district that consists of six schools: Hopewell Valley Central High School (HVCHS), Timberlane Middle School (TMS), Toll Gate Grammar School, Hopewell Elementary School, Bear Tavern Elementary School and Stony Brook Elementary School.
“We have been tracking enrollment for years, since I got here in 2010. I was responsible for demographics when I was in West Windsor before I came here,” he said. “We saw what was happening and the future. We were seeing about a 50 student decrease (annually) in the future. We have a demographer’s report. We actually haven’t decreased as much as they expected. That is a good thing.”
When asked about whether he is concerned about the decline effect on state aid, Smith said, “Yes.” HVRSD will see an increase in state aid for the proposed 2021-22 school year. The district is expected to receive $4.89 million compared to $4.53 million in 2020-21.
“We still do not receive the amount of state aid we were slated to receive. I think we might have just equaled where we were 10 years ago,” he said. “That being said, we are happy with any state aid that we receive. Our budget is funded mostly by property taxes, unfortunately we do not get a whole lot of state aid, but any state aid we receive is appreciated.”
If a reduction state aid were to occur the decrease would not be expected by the administration to significantly reduce the services provided within the district or cut staff.
“Because we do not get a whole lot of state aid as it is, we have done I think a pretty good job of taking systematic reductions over the years,” Smith said. “We have reduced staff as people retire, they are not necessarily replaced, so that is a good thing on the impact of the system. If they were to say wipe out all of our state, then we would be faced with making service reductions.”
Smith referenced back to the first year of former Gov. Chris Christie’s administration in 2010, when the district experienced a loss of 85% ($3.4 million) in state aid as an example of if the state where to significantly reduce aid.
“That is when we cut a lot of staff and a lot of services. It has taken us 10 years to just come back from that,” he said.