Local Lawmakers Troubled by State Cuts to Hillsborough School Funding

March 20, 2023

HILLSBOROUGH, NJ – For the fifth year in a row, the township’s school district has been targeted for significant cuts in state aid from Trenton.

State lawmakers who represent local residents say enough is enough.

Governor Phil Murphy’s proposed $53 billion state budget for 2023-24 includes direct property tax relief, full payment to the state’s pension system, investments in pre-K education, assistance for first-time homebuyers and many other important investments in our communities, which pleases state Sen. Andrew Zwicker, whose district office is in Hillsborough, and Assemblyman Roy Freiman, who lives in Hillsborough.

They released the following joint statement:

“While we were glad to see that the budget includes an additional $800 million in funding for K-12 education, how the money is distributed is unacceptable.

“While many school districts will see an increase in their state aid, funding would actually decrease for about 20 percent of the state’s school districts including South Brunswick, Hillsborough, High Bridge and Clinton. In those school districts alone, the proposed budget cuts aid by $5.5 million – an unacceptable amount,” Zwicker and Freiman said.

Hillsborough’s proposed state aid figure for 2023-24 is $20,642,528, a 4.2 percent decrease of $913,106 from the 2022-23 state aid figure.

Hillsborough’s schools have received less state aid each of the past five years due to a multi-year redistribution of aid from districts deemed over funded under the state’s school finance formula.

Hillsborough is the only school district in Somerset County that would receive less state aid than last year under Murphy’s proposed $20.5 billion statewide school budget proposal, which must be approved by the state Assembly and Senate.

The reduction continues a downward pattern of state aid given to the Hillsborough school district that began in the 2017-18 school year when $25,205,490 was received from Trenton.

The school district received $21,555,634 in the 2022-23 school year, down from the $22,960,447 received in the 2021-22 school year.

Over the past five years, Hillsborough’s state aid for schools has been reduced by 18.7 percent, a total of $4,562,962.

“This is not fair to the families and students of Central Jersey who choose to live here because we have the best schools in the country. It’s not fair to our educators who are asked every year to provide the same high-quality education with fewer and fewer resources,” the lawmakers said.

“Two years ago, we established a fund to pay down our debt so that more of our money would go to things like schools and less would go to Wall Street to pay down interest for bad decisions made in the past. We also put in that fund some extra money for a “rainy day.”  It is now pouring in New Jersey and we should solve this current funding gap in our public schools by using the state’s rainy day fund.” said Zwicker and Freiman.

Last year, Zwicker and Freiman were able to secure $1 million in additional aid for Hillsborough schools.

“Because we have made the hard decisions over the last few years to get our state’s fiscal house back in order, we believe we now have the freedom to pay our bills, lower property taxes, and make record investments in our schools in a fair way. As we examine this budget and the legislature weighs in, we will demand just that,” they added. 

“As we consider this proposed budget, we will continue to fight for fairness and a commitment to the future of our students,” said Zwicker and Freiman,

Hillsborough School Supt. Mike Volpe introduced the proposed 2023-24 school budget of $139,869,347 at the March 13 school board meeting, an increase of $2,391,283 over the previous year’s budget.

Despite that proposed increase, and the loss of the $913,103 from the state, Volpe’s budget will deliver a tax decrease of $29 per month for homeowners while maintaining staffing levels and providing for the addition of special education teachers, six new school buses, a band trailer and upgraded communications equipment

Volpe’s budget also includes funds for roof repairs at Woodfern School and a drainage project at Hillsborough High School.

Volpe said savings were made possible by switching medical insurance carriers, reducing building allocations to each of the district’s nine school buildings and using $1.5 million in surplus funds.

Funds received from the state augment taxpayer dollars used to pay for programs, instruction, capital improvements, teachers’ and staff salaries and benefits; 80 percent of the proposed Hillsborough school budget is devoted to staff salaries and benefits, according to Volpe.

School Board members will vote whether to approve the budget at its April 24 meeting.