HILLSBOROUGH, NJ - Often touted as one of the best places to live - both in the state and in the nation - community partners are coming together to ensure that Hillsborough stays that way, according to members of the Hillsborough Education Association.
This effort began on Oct. 28th, when members of the HEA joined with Mayor Frank DelCore, Deputy Mayor Doug Tomson, New Jersey Education Association president Marie Blistan, residents, students and representatives from neighboring unions like the Amalgamated Transit Union, to raise the question before the Hillsborough Board of Education, “What is Best for BORO?”
At the October meeting, over 350 audience members, most clad in HEA blue, crowded the cafeteria of Auten Road School to encourage the board to recognize what is best to maintain the district’s current successes.
NJEA President Marie Blistan spoke about the high quality of education at Hillsborough public schools, including the district’s exceptional graduation and college admission rates along with the work of the HEA’s efforts to give back to the community.
“You have a model district here. People have come to live here and to raise their families here. They don’t come here just for the location, or beautiful scenery, but for this public school system,” Blistan stated. “You have the control to have a quality, stable, workforce which is accomplished through contract negotiations… to not just demonstrate in words or clothes, but in action, your commitment to respect them at the same level that they dedicate their lives to the students of the Hillsborough district.”
Somerset County Education Association president, Dan Epstein, echoed Blistan’s accolades by saying Hillsborough is a fantastic school district; however, educators are suffering with reductions in take-home pay causing many teachers to obtain second and third jobs.
“When you have a phenomenal school district, with people who are working hard, giving so much of themselves for their students, you never know which one is having trouble making a mortgage payment, which of them is forcing their own children to go into higher student debt to maintain their college education or who is having trouble putting food on their table.” Epstein said.
HEA president Henry Goodhue addressed the Board’s need for the referendum to address building conditions, but also discussed the working conditions needing improvement as well.
Voters will be asked to approve a $35.4 million referendum on Dec. 10th that would pay for building improvements at the district's nine school buildings and to retire outstanding debt from previous referendums.
“The conditions for our members have also worsened over recent months; but, unlike building conditions, there can be no referendum to repair the rapport between board and members. The state cannot provide 40 percent of the resources needed to replace our trust,” Goodhue said.
“Repairing the current state of affairs requires 100 percent commitment from each member of the board," he added. You must individually evaluate the foundation upon which you are attempting to build our district’s future, taking the steps to ensure it’s the strongest possible.”
If the referendum is approved, it would mean a $42 reduction in taxes for the average Hillsborough residence with a property value of $350,000, according to Michael Callahan, Human Resources director for Hillsborough Schools.
The nine-member school board approved the referendum unanimously at its Oct. 14th meeting.
The state Department of Education will contribute 40 percent of the cost, approximately $14 million, but only if the referendum is approved by voters, according to Callahan.
"The proceeds from the referendum would be utilized to pay for critical infrastructure and capital improvements," Callahan said. "Unlike a previous referendum which failed this past March, Full-Day Kindergarten is not linked to this referendum.
"Additionally there is no consideration for the building of any new school in this referendum," he added.
Officials have been considering construction of a second high school in the township.
Projects across the nine schools would include roofing, air quality (HVAC), power and lighting upgrades exterior repairs and security.
Specifics regarding the work to be done at each school can be found online at www.htps.us/repair_replace_revive
“The quality of life for our students, staff and the community is key and never before has it been more opportune to invest in that quality of life," said Acting Superintendent of Schools Dr. Lisa M. Antunes.
"The retired debt, state contribution, and low interest rates create a unique opportunity to revive a failing infrastructure,” said School Business Administrator Aiman Mahmoud “The finances on this make sense .It would be fiscally irresponsible not to take advantage of the state contributions that are above our normal share.”
HEA second vice president, Elena Maucere spoke on her optimism that both sides can return to the table to reach a deal.
“Budgets are necessary and important. Improving building conditions are necessary and important,” Maucere said. “But your people; that’s where the most important and necessary investment needs to be. I’m committed to rebuilding. Today is a brand new opportunity to move forward to prove why Hillsborough is the best.”
Throughout Hillsborough, close to 100 businesses are displaying signs stating, “We Support Hillsborough Educators” and over 200 “Settle Now” yard signs have been distributed in town. Residents, students and members of the HEA have begun marching in the morning before school begins to demonstrate solidarity and their resolve to seek a fair and equitable contract that protects the excellence achieved in Hillsborough Public Schools. Cheers, thumbs up and honks of support have become the soundtrack of these demonstrations.
The members of the Hillsborough Education Association (HEA) have been working under an expired contract since July 2019. The HEA and the Hillsborough Board of Education have met multiple times – most recently for close to ten hours, yet the two parties cannot reach a settlement on the outstanding issues of tuition reimbursement and salary. Thus far, the Board of education refused to negotiate one issue without the other.
The members of the HEA have made it clear that they are standing firm and demanding only the “Best for BORO” and are unwilling to watch tuition reimbursement opportunities erode and salaries fall behind. They firmly believe that Hillsborough students deserve highly trained educators and are determined to protect the excellence in Hillsborough schools. The HEA is open to all options that yield a fair settlement for its members, but believe that actions speak louder than words and look forward to seeing this resolved in fact finding.