Millburn Board of Education Discusses Funding Referendum

Ken Ettinger comments on school funding at Monday's Millburn Board of Education meeting. Credits: Bob Faszczewski

MILLBURN, NJ – The Board of Education held a discussion during their meeting on Monday night about a possible future referendum on changes to school facilities.

Ken Ettinger of Short Hills said there was a perception in some quarters that all residents of Millburn and Short Hills lived in “multi-million-dollar homes” and that rising expenditures on school projects did not matter to such people.

However, he noted, there are homes in foreclosure in the township.

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Ettinger added although many interest groups, whether they have young children just starting in school, have children who have completed their education in the township schools or just are interested in maintaining quality, all support Millburn's top-notch schools.

The question, however, is how much they can afford for those schools, he said.

Ettinger urged the board, if it does pursue a referendum, to explain its motives and data sufficiently so it does not incur the wrath and rancor that, he said, has accompanied past referenda.

Resident and former board member Abby Kalen added the board, if it wants the community to support its recommendations, to present a “product” that the community can stand behind.

Board candidate Emily Jaffe, who has two young children, felt it was somewhat unfair to portray those who have children in the schools as automatically in favor of all expenditures.

She said residents should weigh all facts presented carefully and weigh all the options.

Waters agreed with Ettinger that there were many interest groups and the board should consider all points of view before reaching any decision.

He cautioned, however, that the board had to make its own decisions based on what it perceived to be the desires of the township's 20,000 residents and this perception did not always come from listening strictly to large groups who appear at board meetings.

The board president recalled a number of years ago that a group of about 14 residents who all made the same points on an issue at a board meeting all seemed to have the same point of view. These were not the only voices, Waters said, to whom the board should be listening.

On another issue, Kalen raised the question about whether the board should accept a $10,571 donation from the middle school parent-teacher organization to replace a chain link fence at the bus loop on Haddonfield Road.

She said she believed it was improper for a board of education to accept a donation for an item that should be a capital expenditure or maintenance item paid for by private funds.

Board member Regina Truit agreed and asked Crisfield if the fence replacement was a matter of safety.

The superintendent replied that the current fence did not present a safety issue, but felt the district should not turn down a donation offered by a school group.

He also said it was not improper for the district to accept the donation.

Board vice president Rona Wenik noted when she was president of the Middle School PTO they had many vigorous discussions about donation of furniture or auditorium curtains to the school but the donation of such items was supported.

When the vote was taken the board accepted the donation, with Truit, Chapman and board member Rupali Wadhwa voting against the acceptance.

On another matter, former board member Josh Scharf again said that the school district was not doing enough to identify non-residents attending township schools.

Responding to past comments made on the issue, Birnberg said he had not brought up the issue of 1,000 such students in the township schools but had calculated that number based on a comment made at a past meeting.

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Millburn/Short Hills