HILLSBOROUGH, NJ - Local legislators are trying to find money in Trenton that would help reverse, or lessen the loss of 50 jobs in the township school district announced earlier this week.
Those affected received notice during the week of April 15-18, just prior to Spring Break, according to Henry Goodhue, president of the Hillsborough Education Association, which represents 1,086 employees in the school district.
The job cuts are spread throughout the district, with 18 at the elementary schools, including 5 at Woods Road Elementary School; 6 at the Middle School and 10 at the High School. The others are support staff positions spread throughout the district.
Those affected will work through the end of the school year and be paid through June 30 at which time both the state Assembly and state Senate will be finalizing the July 1 introduction of the state budget for 2019-2020, which includes state aid for all of New Jersey’s school districts.
Hillsborough has lost significant state aid the past few years and had hoped to blunt the erosion of state aid with passage of an $8 million referendum in March that asked voters to approve all-day kindergarten, but more importantly, an infusion of $2.8 million to help steady the budget.
Residents voted by an overwhelming margin to reject the referendum that would have raised $8.06 million in taxes to pay for all-day kindergarten and stabilize the school board's finances.
The referendum failed with 4,432 voting against with 3,003 in favor. There were 624 mail-in ballots against the referendum and 406 in favor.
The vote total, 8,465, represents 24.62 percent of the 30,193 registered voters in the township.
Had the referendum been approved, it would have cost the average homeowner an additional $300 per year in taxes, roughly $25 per month on the average Hillsborough home valued at $389,300.
Also included in this referendum was a long-term plan for funding financial stability. Hillsborough Schools’ yearly budget is limited by a two percent tax cap. Over the last several years, the district has been forced to use a portion of its fund balance to cover costs outside of the district’s control that continue to exceed this two percent limit.
Financial concerns were compounded this summer when New Jersey announced it would reduce state aid to Hillsborough Township Public Schools by $5.34 million dollars over the next six years. A full-day kindergarten program would also have supported financial stability as the state aid formula calculates funding full day kindergarten programs at twice the amount as a half day kindergarten program according to school officials. Hillsborough is one of only 3 districts in Somerset County that does not offer full-day kindergarten.
Three days after the vote, the state announced a $526,000 reduction in state aid for the 2019-20 school year, a 2.11 percent drop from this school year.
The BOE and Superintendent of Schools Dr. Jorden Schiff had warned that layoffs could occur without the additional funding sought in the referendum.
“We’re trying to get some additional funding for Hillsborough’s schools because they’ve been cut significantly past two years,” said state Sen. Christopher “Kip” Bateman, (R-Somerset, Hunterdon, Middlesex, Mercer).
State Assemblymen Andrew Zwicker, D-16th, and Roy Freiman, D-16th, a resident of Hillsborough, will be lobbying their colleagues in the Assembly.
“We’ll know in the next six weeks because we have to adopt a budget by July 1,” Bateman said.
“I’ve had numerous conversations with the superintendent,” Bateman added. “When I saw the state aid figures come out a few months ago I knew Hillsborough was in trouble.
“This is not a partisan issue by any means. We want to work in the best interests of the children of Hillsborough and we don’t want to see people lose their jobs. We’re here to do the best we can. I hate to see 37 teachers lose their jobs,” Bateman said.
Freiman is confident the legislators’ combined effort will pay off, as he and Zwicker were successful last year in securing an additional $1 in supplemental aid for Hillsborough schools.
“We will put in for supplemental funding and make that our top priority,” Freiman said.
Freiman and Zwicker had arranged a meeting with Schiff and New Jersey Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin, D-Middlesex recently which provided a forum for the superintendent to address the hardships faced by Hillsborough schools, which have lost millions in state aid over the past two years
“We wanted the speaker to hear not just from us, but the superintendent as well as to the situation they are in,” Freiman said.
“From my perspective, the one thing I want to make sure we do is bring back the staff that was not funded,” Freiman emphasized. “That is my goal.
Freiman’s wife, and Zwicker’s wife, are both school teachers in the Hillsborough school district.
“We have a very personal connection to this,” Freiman said.
The Board of Education at its meeting Monday announced the job cuts; 37 teachers were fired, with the balance of the jobs eliminated through retirements.
The 37 people represent "people who have worked extraordinarily hard for the district, have dedicated themselves to the children and to their profession and it is a sad thing that we're going to be saying goodbye to so many good quality people who through no fault of their own will not have a position in our district next year," Schiff said.
The HEA issued a statement after the firings were announced:
“Following the failed referendum everyone understood difficult decisions were inevitable. However, the ones made last night do not reflect the best interests of our community.
“The Hillsborough Education Association is deeply saddened at the loss of so many dedicated professionals who positively impact students' lives. Diminishing academic programs, increasing class sizes, and undermining the high quality of our schools are unacceptable. Our community values honesty, integrity and a total commitment to keeping Hillsborough's schools among the best in the state. Our children deserve nothing less.”
The school district has scheduled a jobs fair for the teachers affected by the budget cuts on May 20.