Edison, NJ - On Monday, the Edison Board of Education unanimously approved a resolution that schedules a special election on December 10, 2019 for a bond referendum. The referendum, if approved by voters, will fund the expansion and renovation of six Edison schools, including both of the district's high schools.
In addition to alleviating the district's school overcrowding crisis, the ambitious school expansion plan would also lead the way for full day kindergarten, according to Board members.
"Solving school overcrowding and bringing our residents full day kindergarten are priorities," said Board President Jerry Shi. "We have severe space limitations, and as our Taskforce concluded, the overcrowding is impacting the quality of education, safety and welfare of our children, limiting our educators, and prevents us from having full day kindergarten," he said. "We need to expand our schools, but we need to do it in a way that that has minimal impact on taxpayers. We need to be accountable to our taxpayers."
The $189 million plan includes the expansion and renovation of Edison High School, J.P. Stevens, John Adams Middle School, Lincoln Elementary School, John Marshall Elementary School, and James Madison Intermediate School. Modular buildings are being installed in FDR and Woodrow Wilson as the first step to start combating the overcrowding issue.
"The schools are well overcrowded and it's to the point where we have to do something. We went out for a referendum and even though it's an outlandish number to everyone, according to the state it's very fair and they expected to ask for a lot more money than we actually did. And hopefully it will go off and pass as a referendum," said Board member Elizabeth Conway.
The plan, which was developed based on recommendations from the School Overcrowding Taskforce convened by the Board in 2018, demographic studies, as well as a Facilities Master Plan prepared by SSP Architects, was approved by the State in late June.
"We're almost at 17,000 students and the schools just can't fit them anymore. So [this is] something that we have to do and hopefully the people will vote for it. That's as bland as I can be. Based on a lot of research as to what our needs are - they did surveys, they went around to all the schools to check out and see what the major leagues are at the schools, and they came up with a plan. They showed us what they're doing and we're moving forward. It seems like it takes forever but hopefully we're doing it the right way by taking our time," said Ms. Conway.
On Monday, the Board voted to accept just over $31 million in State funding for the project costs. That State contribution is based on Preliminary Eligibility Costs calculated by the State. The State aid award letters deemed all of the elements of the project eligible for the highest level of aid from the State.
“That high level of State aid correlates to and signals the necessity of the projects for the health, education and safety of the students,” said Mr. Shi.
The Board also retained the Acacia Financial Group to provide specialized financial advisory services in connection with the issuance of obligation by the Board, including the financial analysis of the Board's financing options and the tax impact implications in connection with those options.
Although the current plans calls for $189 million, that number is likely to come down according to Board members.
“We will be sitting down with the actual architectural firms that will be involved with the detailed designs to bring the costs down further,” said Board member Richard Brescher. "The Board will hire construction managers to work with the architects to go over the detailed design. The cost needs to come down. We want a building that is practical and can do its job and we will continue to negotiate the pricing. That’s something I am strongly committed to,” he said
The district may also benefit from low interest rates, according to the district’s bond attorney, Lisa Gorab.
"Interest rates in the market are at incredible lows right now, probably some of the lowest rates we've seen. Probably 20 year debt, 25 year debt in the 2.5% to 2.7% range. So, it's a very, very advantageous time to borrow money right now as a school district," said Ms. Gorab.
Ms. Gorab also explained that the financial plan will be put in place in advance of the December 10th referendum so that the plan, along with an estimated interest rate, can be communicated with voters before they vote on the referendum. "There is a fair amount of work that goes into planning that," she explained stating that the goals of the financial plan would include not borrowing more money than what is needed.