‘We plan to keep most of what we hold dear’

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ANDREW HARRISON/STAFF
The Hopewell Valley Regional School District administration building in Pennington.

Hopewell Valley Regional School District (HVRSD) is expected to raise tax rates in a $102.6 million budget that will fund school district operations for the 2024-25 school year.

The school district presented its tentative budget for the next school year at the Board of Education meeting on March 18. A public hearing on the budget is scheduled for April 29.

According to the presentation, Pennington would receive a 10-cent increase for a projected tax rate of $1.86 per $100 of assessed valuation, Hopewell Township would receive a five-cent increase for a projected tax rate of $1.80 per $100 of assessed valuation, and Hopewell Borough is projected to have a three-cent increase for a tax rate of $1.85 per $100 of assessed valuation.

“Moving forward the level of programming that we have or the class sizes that we have are going to be a challenge to afford if everything outside of our control continues,” Board President Anita Williams Galiano said.

“I wanted to make sure we share that we are paying attention. We are paying attention to the details. How can we maintain the highest quality and be responsible for keeping our buildings at the appropriate safety level.”

Robert Colavita, business administrator for HVRSD, said some of the drivers of the budget are inflation with supplies, services, and energy; curriculum and instruction; facilities and maintenance costs; technology; staffing; special education; and anticipated growth of Hopewell Township.

“I thought inflation was going to kind of settle in … [it] really hasn’t yet,” he said. “Inflation is still driving the budget in areas of transportation (a six percent increase on transportation expenses this year), and insurance (medical and benefits).”

HVRSD serves the communities of Hopewell Township, Pennington, and Hopewell Borough.

The 2024-25 projected tax levy of $88.9 million is the amount property owners would pay in school property taxes to support the district from the three municipalities in Hopewell Valley.

School taxes are one item on a property owner’s total tax bill, which also includes municipal taxes and county taxes.

The amount an individual pays in property taxes is determined by the assessed value of his home and/or property, and the tax rate that is set by each taxing entity.

“We plan to keep most of what we hold dear here in this district,” Superintendent Rosetta Treece said. “Everyone working here tonight is committed to maintaining the district’s prestige, reputation and the rigor that is here.”

The proposed appropriations for the budget include: $43.6 million towards regular instruction (including co-curricular athletics); $19.7 million on staff benefits; $17.9 million on special education; $7.6 million on operations and maintenance; $6.1 million on transportation; $4.1 million on debt service; $2.9 million on central office and district services; and $348,590.

Revenues proposed for the budget outside of the tax levy include: $7.4 million from state aid, $3.9 million from the fund balance (savings); $1.4 million from miscellaneous (interest on savings, tuition revenues, facility rentals); and $882,890 from federal aid.

“The number that concerns me is the amount of fund balance and savings we have in the budget. It is less than last year, which is on a positive trend, but it is still high,” Colavita said.

“We are borrowing money from this year and putting it to next year and all that is contingent upon being able to do it again next year unless we can start finding ways to reduce costs or eliminating programs to get that number down.”

Colavita added that his “happy place” for the use of fund balance would be in the area of $2.5 million.