November 28, 2012 at 4:52 PM
WESTFIELD, NJ—At the Nov. 27 Westfield Board of Education meeting, members of the board urged residents to vote in favor of a $13.6 million bond issue on Tuesday, Dec. 11.
The bonds would pay for much-needed repairs to roofs at nine schools and three other facilities in the district. The polls will be open from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m., several speakers reminded the public during the meeting.
As she has at two previous meetings, Business Administrator Dana Sullivan made a presentation about the roof replacement project. She said the state provides school districts with the ability to issue bonds to fund capital projects. Historically, New Jersey has provided state aid for capital projects. However, funding has not been given for capital projects for the past few years.
If approved, the bonds will be paid back over 20 years, which is the estimated useful life of the roofs, Sullivan explained.
“Right now, interest rates are very low, which makes it an opportune time for us to issue bonds,” she said.
Board members have decided that a roof replacement project will take place even if the bond issue does not pass.
Board President Richard Mattessich warned that if the district has to take funds from its operating budget, there may be painful cuts to programs and personnel.
Sullivan reinforced that statement, saying that programs and services would be impacted. There would be an increase in class size at all levels, fine arts and other electives might be cut, athletic programs might be curtailed, technology initiatives might be stopped and maintenance to facilities might be postponed.
In addition, potential staff reductions could occur, Sullivan said, noting that about 80 percent of the budget goes to personnel. Teachers in every school at every level might be cut, as well as counselors, secretaries, paraprofessionals, custodians, administrators and librarians.
Board member Ann Cary said, “It might be hard for parents to get passionate about roofs, but they can about fine arts and other programs.”
When the board meets again on Dec. 11, the results of the bond referendum will be known and the board will make its plan. If the referendum fails, approximately $4 million will be reallocated in next year’s budget for the high school roof and reallocations may have to be sustained in succeeding years to complete the remaining roofs.
In other business, the board approved a revised school calendar that now includes three snow days at the end of June. Graduation has now been pushed back to Tuesday, June 25.
Superintendent Margaret Dolan explained that she and the policy committee had looked at other dates, including spring break and Memorial Day, but had settled on the end of the school year as the most practical.
The board gave its approval after hearing from Livingston Street resident Vertina Graves, who urged the governing body to close the schools on Martin Luther King Day because of its importance to citizens such as her father, who had suffered racial discrimination.
Dolan explained that there were few good options for making up school days lost during Superstorm Sandy last month, and the schools would only be open for a half day.
“You’ve eloquently said why we should honor the day,” she said. “No disrespect is meant at all.”
Dolan suggested that stories such as Graves’s could be told in the schools.
Board member Mitchell Slater picked up on Graves’s comment that the President will be inaugurated that day and suggested that schools incorporate coverage in their classes.