Over the past week, letters have been written questioning our support for education, the performing arts and our commitment to Chatham. It is due to our unwavering support for education, championing the performing arts and our love of Chatham that we are in an honest disagreement with the Board of Education over the upcoming Referendum.
We are just as committed to education, the performing arts and Chatham as are those who support the referendum. The brilliance of a democracy is the right to disagree and hear opposing points of view.
Where we diverge is over whether spending scarce funds on “bricks and mortar” is the wisest use of our educational dollar; namely, building a Performing Arts Center on the grass oval of the Middle School. We believe it is not.
When you look at U.S. Census figures and compare 2010 against 2000, you will see an increase of residents in the Chathams of 4.7 percent. However, when you break it out demographically, the BOE has indicated that student population has risen 27 percent since 2005. It is a fair conclusion that the majority of the census increase are families with children of school age. Since Chatham is such a highly ranked school district, it is a fair conclusion that the school enrollment increase will only continue.
Part of the funds in the Referendum are for badly needed classroom space. However, part of the funds are for two ill-advised projects; namely, the construction of a performing arts center on a valuable piece of land and constructing administrative offices in the old middle school auditorium. These offices will take up valuable classroom space in and of themselves, not to mention the dead space above them as drop ceilings will be installed for two stories of empty, unusable space.
We do not want to see the past repeat itself. The Borough Municipal Building was once a Public School sold to the Borough when school enrollment was declining. The ECLC school was another facility that was disposed of as well as the Mountainview School, now the Township Municipal building, given the facts of the day.
Once those buildings were sold, the enrollment numbers began to trend upwards. Subsequent boards of education had to begin additions to the schools to handle the load. When the old schools were sold, there was no Master Plan in place. Had there been a Master Plan; perhaps, things might have turned out differently. We will never know. The only thing we do know from yesteryear is that we still lack a Master Plan. We cannot allow lack of a Master Plan to push us into a potential blunder from which we might not recover.
What if enrollment doubles over the next 10 years? What then? Wouldn’t it be a good thing to have the grass oval at the Middle School to potentially build a new school or addition?
My point is, we must plan wisely for the future by jointly developing a Master Plan. Where do we think enrollment will be in 5-10 years? How many enrollees do we think Full-Day Kindergarten will attract? Do we want any pre-school programs? What should the maintenance cycle of our buildings be? Do we need new buildings to house students?
Without a Master Plan we will repeat past mistakes, not because volunteers are not dedicated and smart; but, because the volunteers must work with the facts in front of them at the time.
For the sake of Chatham, I urge a NO vote on Question 2 so we can plan appropriately and address the issues together, as a community.