Budget cap figure gives district breathing room

New figure is 4.01 percent, while the district’s proposed budget anticipates a cap of 3.6 percent.

By: Donna Lukiw
   Hillsborough School District Assistant Superintendent for Business Tom Venanzi was able to breathe a small sigh of relief Tuesday, after learning the district’s proposed budget fell beneath the state’s cap number.
   Mr. Venanzi said the district received a cap of 4.01 percent, higher than the budget’s projected 3.6 percent.
   "I need to work on this to see what it means for us," Mr. Venanzi said Tuesday just moments after finding out the cap. "It is good news that the CPI is higher than expected so it will allow us to include more costs within our base budget rather than subject to a separate spending proposal.
   "We still need some time to work through the numbers and the state’s budget software to find out how much of an impact all of this will have on our budget proposal," he added.
   The proposed budget includes a $3.2 million — or 3.4 percent — increase in spending. If approved by voters April 18, the proposed budget would increase the tax rate from $1.837 per $100 assessed value to $1.90. The owner of a property assessed at the township average of $350,000 would see a $221 increase in the school portion of their property tax bill, from $6,429 to $6,650.
   Under the proposed budget, $65,817,017 would be raised through local taxes, a $3,986,742 increase from last year.
   A separate $1,050,797 question will be included on the ballot, which would pay for several teaching positions, middle school athletic programs, nurses and guidance counselors. If approved, the special question would add $49 to average tax bills.
   The proposed budget figures on the district receiving the same amount of state aid as last year — but Mr. Venanzi said they still have not received any state aid information.
   "I don’t expect state aid information until after the governor’s budget message which may be March 21," Mr. Venanzi said. "The law states that the state must provide school districts with the state aid information within two days after the message."
   While administrators are figuring out the new budget and making changes, Hillsborough Middle School administrators, coaches and students are preparing for the possible changes if the school’s athletic program remains on the separate spending proposal and does not get passed.
   After Superintendent Karen Lake announced the proposed budget last week, several parents expressed their concerns with cutting the middle schools athletic program and placing it on the separate spending proposal.
   "Every year it seems like we’re cutting and cutting," Hillsborough resident Carol Mack said. "We really have to keep on building positive esteem for our kids."
   In the proposed budget, $104,518 is allocated for the middle school athletic program while $46,116 has been designated for a part-time middle school athletic director.
   Both items are included in the separate spending proposal.
   Hillsborough Middle School students participate in seven sports including basketball, softball, wrestling, cross country, soccer, field hockey and lacrosse throughout the school year.
   "I am very hopeful that our community will support all of the items in the second question," HMS Principal Joe Trybulski said. "Extracurricular activities, including the athletic programs, are vital to the life of the school and to the lives or our children. I challenge anyone to spend even a few minutes watching our student athletes train and compete in basketball, soccer, field hockey, cross country, wrestling, lacrosse and softball and not come away with a sense of pride and satisfaction."
   The middle school’s girls basketball team carries between 24 to 28 girls where they compete throughout the winter season.
   "We have an A team and a B team," girls basketball coach Paul Parker said. "They are presented with a miniversion of the high school program."
   The A team plays about 18 games a year, are in a league of six teams and have a tournament at the end of the season. The season runs from Nov. 15 until around the middle of February. The B team plays about 14-16 games a year.
   Mr. Parker said there are about 90 to 100 girls trying out for the team each year. He said that while the team uses parts of the district’s budget for equipment and other necessities they also fundraise to buy items the budget will not cover.
   "For many students, sports is where they make a close connection with school and learn lessons about teamwork and hard work that do in fact carry over to their work in the classrooms," Mr. Trybulski said. "Our athletes are a source of pride for the whole school."
   Assistant Athletic Director Rich Burton said over 300 students make the teams, but over 500 students try-out.
   "Athletics at HMS is very important not only to our school but the district and community as well," Mr. Burton said.
   Mr. Burton said HMS athletics develops the student-athletes cooperative for school, team, and community, teaches the student-athletes to respect rules, fair play, and sportsmanship and prepares them in life with the lessons they learn in practice every day and during their competitions both winning or losing.
   "Most importantly it helps encourage the athlete to make good decisions in life through daily lessons of positive self-discipline and self-sacrifice," Mr. Burton said. "These lessons are taught daily by our outstanding coaching staff throughout each season. Losing that daily interaction between coaches and players would be devastating to these young people."
   Mr. Burton said it would be devastating to these young student-athletes if the separate question does not pass
   "I understand that this is a proposal and that changes can be made before a final decision is made on the budget," Mr. Burton said. "Obviously I am hoping that changes are made to put our program back into the main budget."
   Many residents attending last Monday’s meeting urged including the special question items in the regular budget, but Ms. Lake said she felt she had little choice but to move the items from the regular budget.
   "You think I like putting middle school athletics on the second question?" Ms. Lake asked after a comment was made that athletics should be included in the base budget. "I hate it."
   If the separate spending question does not pass in April, three existing school nurses and six existing guidance counselors would also be eliminated positions in the district.
   "The absence of the middle school athletic program will leave many, many young adolescents out after school with nothing to do," Mr. Trybulski said. "This simply is not a question of whether a community like Hillsborough can afford these programs. I would ask, instead, how can we not afford them?"
   The board will continue to discuss changes to the budget at the Feb. 27 board meeting at 7:30 p.m. in the high school auditorium.