To the Editor,

There seems to be confusion about how a school bond referendum interfaces with the operating budget upon which Chatham voters opine each year. A referendum is relatively rare, whereas the operating budget is subjected to an annual vote.

A bond referendum is analogous to the mortgage on your house.  You take out a mortgage and pay it off over a defined period, e.g. 20 years.  After that time, you own the house free and clear.  The same is true of school district facilities financed by a bond.  Interest rates are at an historic low, and now is a good time to take out a mortgage or a bond.

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Chatham’s school operating budgets are voted upon every April. Any increase is subject to a 2 percent cap, which usually goes to teacher salaries, medical benefits, and special education.  Anything above a 2 percent increase must be put to voters in a second question. Many of the same people who oppose a referendum also oppose second questions. To them, Chatham should have no referenda and no second questions. There is no tradeoff.

Let’s address the “problems” identified with the referendum.

First: The school board has been studying expansion proposals since before the 2008 financial crisis. One of the proposals was a referendum for a new building in the middle school oval, but the financial crisis brought forth more pressing problems and the referendum was deferred until now.  The oard’s approach has been comprehensive and strategic. To call the approach “grab bag” does a disservice to the nine dedicated men and women elected to the Board of Education who volunteer their time to study these issues on behalf of Chatham taxpayers.

Second:  The school board understands what a bond issue entails. To say that they “refuse” to understand is a disservice.

Third:  The proposed referendum is a carefully crafted package designed to address facilities needs of the Arts, Academics, and Athletics for Chatham’s AAA school district. To call this a “glaring example of wastefulness” is a disservice.

Fourth: To imply that monies not spent on a referendum are transferable to operating budgets is incorrect. As explained above, operating budgets are subject to a cap. Let’s examine the one of the areas suggested, assuming voters will approve more second questions: Full Day Kindergarten (FDK). There is no room for FDK unless new classrooms are built (per the referendum) or enrollment declines (which hasn’t happened in a long while.)  No referendum, no FDK.

Fifth: The relocation of district offices to be co-located with a school brings administration much closer to where teaching takes place, which is a good thing but hard to quantify.

Chatham property taxpayers fund over 90% of the operating budget, and the Board of Education has done an excellent job of carefully spending tax dollars with an eye out to achieving the “best bang for the buck.”  How else would one explain the fact that Chatham’s per student cost is well below NJ average and peer schools, while achieving the number one ranking in the state?  These things are important for our kids and the broader community.

Chatham taxpayers should be proud of their schools and supportive of the budget and referendum proposals so carefully crafted by an experienced Board of Education with an impeccable track record. If voters are so unhappy with the Board of Education, why are the three positions on the April 21 ballot uncontested?  One can only wonder. 

Alan Routh

Chatham Township