CHATHAM, NJ - Chatham Borough parent Mike Ryan came before the Chatham Township Committee on a fact-finding mission Thursday night, asking questions about the township's arrangement with the Chatham Board of Education, which rents administrative offices in the municipal building.
"Recently the board of education announced that it has plans to vacate space here in the municipal building and spend possibly $2.1 million to move their personnel to different facilities," Ryan said during the public portion of the meeting. "Myself, and some other groups that I'm involved with, plan on attending board of ed meetings to get some details, but I think it would be helpful if we could get some information on the space they rent here."
Mike Ryan, Chatham Borough resident, asks the Chatham Township Committee about the BOE's plan to vacate the municipal building
Thomas Ciccarone, township administrator, answered most of the questions posed by Ryan, explaining that the BOE rents offices in the municipal building at a rate of $50,000 a year. The BOE plans to move all five members of the special services staff to the municipal building in February.
There are two office spaces available since Chatham Township now shares its municipal court services with Madison and other towns. That left the prosecutor's office and the judge's office available for rent at the municipal building. The BOE has been renting the offices at the municipal building for 10 years.
"I've proposed increasing the rent to $60,000 from $50,000," Ciccarone said. "From our perspective, they can remain permanent, but whether it meets their purposes is not for me or us to decide. The space is available and if they want to remain permanently, they can, If we can agree on a number. I don't feel comfortable making that judgment. I don't know what their space needs are. There are two offices available. If that meets their needs, I don't know."
Thomas Ciccarone, township administrator, talks about possibly renewing the lease with the BOE
"At $50,000 it will take 42 years to spend $2.1 million. Correct?," Ryan asked. "We've had two referendums, one failed and one passed. The $2.1 million of taxpayer funds that were available to the board of education weren't used for any of the purposes in the previous referendum. Prior to the referendum, was anyone aware that they were going to move from this apparently available space to use taxpayer funds on another building."
Committee member Kevin Sullivan noted that, "The first referendum was the first time we heard they planned on vacating this building."
On April 21, 2015, Chatham Borough and Chatham Township taxpayers rejected a capital improvement referendum of $24.8 million, which included the relocation of the BOE offices to the Chatham Middle School.
In the new $15 million capital improvement referendum that was approved by the taxpayers in a special election held Sept. 27, 2016, the construction of new BOE offices was not included.
Chatham Township Deputy Mayor Karen Swartz explained to Ryan that the BOE members are "duly elected" and that the committee does not involve itself in those decisions.
"We appreciate the fact that they stay there and we stay where we are," Swartz said.
Ryan added after the meeting that parents he has been speaking with were seeking more "transparency" from board of education members on the expenditure of the capital reserve funds. The BOE has not revealed any possible sites for the new BOE offices.
The public was unaware of the plan to move the offices until it was approved at the Jan. 9 BOE meeting. Questions about the move came during the public portion of the meeting at which the plans had been approved.
During the public portion of the BOE meeting on Jan. 9, the board was asked about its plans to demolish the special services building located at 233 Lafayette Ave., located between Lafayette School and Chatham High School.
The next BOE meeting is scheduled for 7:30 p.m., Monday, Feb. 6 at the Chatham Township Municipal Building, 58 Meyersville Rd.