Hillsborough Superintendent of Schools Michael Volpe has a vested interested in the district he has overseen for the past 10 months.
He has lived in the township since 1999 and noted that Assistant Superintendent Kim Feltre also lives in the township. Volpe has three children who are graduates of the Hillsborough Township Public Schools and one that is a senior at Hillsborough High School.
“We don’t come from another town, work and then leave,” he said. “We live here, breath here and want this place to be successful.”
Hence, it’s time for “Building the Boro Back.”
On Election Day, Nov. 7, voters will head to the polls to decide on two referendum questions – one on school security and one on bringing back 20 staff positions that were cut due to targeted state aid decreases, school officials said.
“The ‘Build Boro Back’ effort started from my 100-day report that I submitted to the board of education,” Volpe said at a board meeting on Oct. 30. “I had an opportunity to look at the district’s functioning, our staffing levels, and get a sense of where we are and where we want to be. That report then turned into an effort for staffing, which is going to be put in front of the voters.”
Starting in 2018, the state passed a new funding formula and law known as S-2.
“Two-thirds of the state’s school districts get more money … much more money. One third of the school districts in the state get less. We are in that one third that is less and that leads to a lot of problems that we have had today,” Volpe said.
The district has lost approximately $4.2 million since the funding formula was put in place.
The Hillsborough Township Public Schools is the only district in Somerset County to be in the one-third category, which Volpe said is an essentially lonely place to be when fighting “vociferously” for fair funding.
“When I go to superintendent’s meetings, nobody is complaining about the school funding formula except me,” Volpe said, noting when it comes to administrative costs, the district has already taken measures to cut positions. “We are already at a deficit.”
With the projection to lose another $400,000 in the 2023-24 school year budget, Volpe said they have reached a point of concern.
“We’re doing what [we’re] expected [of] with what we have,” he said, noting when he came into the top spot, the district was already doing “more with less.” “I’m worried about doing less with less.
“It’s outrageous and I don’t think we can let the state formula dictate the things we are doing here in Hillsborough anymore and hope that some altruistic politician gets elected and solves Hillsborough’s problems.
“We can start to do that together.”
Volpe said the decision to put two referendum questions on the ballot comes down to math.
As of the adopted budget in April, the Hillsborough school tax rate has decreased from 1.461 per $100 of assessed value of a home in 2022-23 to 1.391 in 2023-24. Even if both separate questions to the taxpayers pass, the overall tax rate will still go down to 1.428.
“We have more building in town, we have more ratables in town, so the taxes that support the district is spread out among more taxpayers and that’s what is causing the tax rate to go down [and provide a] minimal amount of impact,” he said.
For question one, Hillsborough Township and Millstone voters will be asked if they want to provide the safest possible environment for all children by increasing the tax levy $934,636 to create a districtwide, K-12, security department. Currently, the district has no district employees who are security personnel.
The security department is proposed to include one security supervisor with an annual salary of $60,000 and nine security officers with an annual salary of $45,000 each totaling $405,000.
The health benefits for the nine officers will total $297,939 – $33,104 each. And the health benefits for the supervisor totals $31,700. The funds will include uniforms at a cost of $15,000.
Security personnel costs outside of contracted hours is proposed to total $55,000, additional certificated staff working events in a safety capacity is proposed to total $50,000 and security supplies is proposed to total $20,000.
For question two, Hillsborough Township and Millstone voters will be asked if they want to bring back staff positions that were cut due to targeted state aid decreases that have hurt Hillsborough by increasing the tax levy $1,901,880 for the purpose of reducing class sizes and adding program offerings, interventionists and mental health supports.
Some 50 plus positions have been lost since the 2018-19 school year.
The district has a tax calculator for homeowners to calculate the tax impact of the two referendum questions.
“If your house is assessed at the same value, taxes are going down guaranteed,” Volpe. said.
For a home assessed at $700,000, voting down the questions, taxes will go down $490.
For a home assessed at $700,000, voting for the two questions, taxes will still go down at $291.
“It’s a win-win for this community,” Volpe said.
For more information on “Build Boro Back” visit www.htps.us.