Architect to Present Plan for Fair Lawn School District Realignment on Sept. 11

Memorial Middle School, Fair Lawn Credits: Rebecca Greene
Thomas Jefferson Middle School, Fair Lawn Credits: Rebecca Greene

FAIR LAWN -- An architect will present renderings of the new school district realignment, as well a cost analysis of the project including the financial impact for the homeowner on Monday, Sept. 11.

Officials voted to move forward with a district realignment late last month. The new reconfiguration, proposed by interim Superintendent Ernest Palestis, would make the district's six elementary schools -- Forrest, Lyncrest, Radburn, Warren Point, Westmoreland and Milnes, (currently K-5s) K-4 schools, while the borough’s 6-8 middle schools, Thomas Jefferson and Memorial (currently housing Grades 6-8) into a fifth, sixth, seventh and eighth grade configuration. The superintendent's idea was derived in response to rising enrollment, which education leaders say are crowding the schools and causing safety issues. 

While a number of residents expressed their approval of the capital project at the Aug. 21 meeting, the project idea will be put to a referendum vote, which will be held on Tuesday, March 13, Board Secretary Brooke Bartley said.

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In addition, the project will also entail various improvements at other schools yet to be determined. 

At the workshop this coming Monday, an architect from LAN Associates will make a presentation at Fair Lawn High School in the cafeteria at 7 p.m. He will discuss what the new alignment will look like in terms of the scope and additional classrooms, as well as break down the cost of the project and the impact for homeowners per assessed value, figures of which will be either divulged that evening or at a forthcoming meeting in October, Palestis said. 

He added that a survey is being formulated to solicit the opinions of teachers, faculty and parents about the configuration. While a survey date was not given, district officials expect to review the feedback in November. 

During a phone conference on Sept. 5, Palestis said the administration is working with the architect, financial advisors and bond counsel to "aggressively" pursue debt service aid available from the state Department of Education with the goal to minimize the financial impact on taxpayers. The project is part of the district's Long Range Facilities plan, which will be sent to Education Commissioner Kimberley Harrington to amend, per the resolution.

Officials have stressed the significance of the project given burgeoning enrollment. As of Sept. 1, Bartley confirmed the district had 5,011 pupils. As part of a dual effort to correct congestion issues in the schools, the board also approved a soft borders policy in April. Under the new policy, new homeowners who purchased a house or signed a lease agreement after July 1 are subject to a reassignment of their child who is between the ages of K-5 to another elementary school if the one in their district is overcrowded. The policy would not apply to Fair Lawn residents (with or without children) who lived in the borough before July 1. 

As of Sept. 5, Bartley confirmed 18 students were affected by the policy. 

Palestis said the project idea is in phases with a “major component” listening to the community and board’s input. When asked if he thinks the referendum will pass, he said he’s “hoping for the best.”

“I’m confident that we will provide the public with whatever information is required,” he said. “I think we have a long way to go. I think we’ve done a good job listening, and so our goal at this point is to put together a good package that meets the needs of the community and I’m hoping for the best.”

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