Millburn School District Facilities Roadmap Could Lead to Future Referendum

Josh Scharf addresses the Millburn Board of Education at Monday's meeting. Credits: Bob Faszczewski
Millburn Board of Education candidate Chase Harrison talks about lightening the load on students. Credits: Bob Faszczewski

MILLBURN, NJ - One of three goals for the Millburn School District, presented at Monday's Board of Education meeting by Superintendent of Schools James Crisfield, is the development of a roadmap or plan to fill in any “gaps” which exist between current district facilities and what is needed for the future.

The building of that roadmap, first of all, seeks creation of “fact-based” and “professional-opinion-based” data sets that would help in starting a conversation on what is needed. Following this data-gathering, to be done this fall, fact-gathering meetings would be held this fall and winter with various “stakeholder groups.” Then a list of prioritized facility needs would be drawn up, followed by a determination whether the proposed needs can be filled with funds available within the existing school budget or by using reserve funds. This would be part of the 2014-2015 budget planning process.

Then, according to Crisfield, in April or May of 2014, he and school business administrator Steven DiGeronimo, in concert with the school board, would decide whether funds in addition to those currently available are needed. If this is the case, the superintendent said, the school officials would decide whether to hold a referendum on the proposed additional expenditures in either September or November 2014.

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Prior to the referendum school officials would draft a list of needs to be met and estimated costs, meetings would continue to be held with all stakeholder groups to gather feedback this coming winter into next spring, and a final set of projects and estimated costs to be included in the referendum would be finalized by May 1, 2014.

In response to a question from board member Lise Chapman, Crisfield said those in the township not involved in stakeholder groups currently involved with the schools could volunteer to join the facilities planning subcommittee of the district strategic planning committee and also could present their ideas at the numerous meetings to be held on the proposals.

Former board of education member Josh Scharf replied that the data presented on Sept. 9 by the district demographer and architect seemed to indicate that the existing common spaces and multi-purpose rooms in the district were in compliance with state law and were adequate to meet the needs of the future.

He also said the reports seem to point to space at South Mountain and Wyoming Elementary Schools being greater than anticipated.

If this is the case, Scharf said, then the board should consider removing the temporary trailers at Glenwood School and redistributing school populations to the extra projected space at South Mountain and Wyoming.

He also said if the items listed on a referendum did not really address needs, but were, rather, a “wish” list then any referendum should be presented that way to the public.

In addition, the former board member said the school body, which voted to eliminate April school budget elections due to the cost of that election, should hold any proposed future referendum at the same time as the general election in November to encourage greater turnout and save the cost of an extra election in September.

Other residents, however, believed that the Sept. 9 demographic and architectural reports pointed not to additional space but to a lack of adequate space in the future.

One resident asked Crisfield if, in fact, there was inadequate space in the common areas whether state grants would be available to pay for expanding those spaces.

The superintendent replied that any state funding for those items probably would come from forgiveness of debt service and, based on the district's recent past experience with state funding, that forgiveness could not be predicted from one year to the next.

Amy Talbert of the Millburn Education Foundation said, as a Deerfield parent, she knew that the long lines for restrooms and during lunch breaks demonstrated that the district's facilities were not adequate.

Board candidate Emily Jaffe, a member of the facilities and resource planning subcommittees of the strategic planning committee, also said her perceptions of the reports were different than those of Scharf.

Jaffe said, however, that she welcomed community dialogue on the future needs of the district.

On another matter, board candidate Chase Harrison, a student at Millburn High School, made a few suggestions to deal with the heavy weight of student backpacks, which was addressed by board member Eric Siegel at the September 9 session.

Harrison suggested that teachers allow students to use online textbooks to do homework, that an additional minute be added to the time students were allotted for packing their school supplies before their next class or that the high school introduce block scheduling, which does not require every subject to be taught every day.

He said block scheduling would allow for longer periods with more teaching time, give students more time to complete assignments between classes and would decrease the amount of materials students would be required to carry because they would not need every binder for every class every day.

On another matter, Scharf repeated his call for the district to do more about addressing the attendance of non-residents in township schools.

He said student residency should be verified against real estate and tax records, reregistration should be required every two years and the district should send out certified letters to parents of students suspected of attending township schools when they were not Millburn Township residents. If the parents did not respond to the letters or the letters were returned saying the students and their parents did not live at the address at which they registered for school, he said the parents should be responsible for reimbursing the township district for the cost of educating the students.

Scharf cited nearby Summit, where he said Councilman Thomas Getzendanner has raised concern over non-resident students; Columbia High School in Maplewood, whose re-registration recently showed that 39 of 480 students were non-residents, and Clifton, where a $1,500 bounty recently was proposed to be awarded to those who reported non-resident students attending that community's schools.

Responding to some of the public comments made, board member Michael Birnberg said his focus on the board always has been to put students first—above parents, taxpayers or staff members.

Birnberg added the schools should avoid moving children as much as possible during the school day, but if it was necessary to move someone, either teachers or students, the students should be moved as little as possible.

The board member also said because we are in a “fluid society” current board members probably should not be bound to actions taken by boards of education in the past.

On another matter, Sondra Kasdon, co-president of the Millburn-Short Hills Special Education Committee (M-SPEC), announced a number of programs the group has scheduled to provide information and services to special education children and their parents.

The group will hold a get-acquainted parent meeting on Oct. 15. A reading specialist will detail the services available to children at the group's Oct. 21 meeting, and there will be a resource fair on Oct. 23 at which providers of products and services for special education students will demonstrate what they can provide for the children.


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