GLEN ROCK, NJ – Borough taxpayers will decide the fate of a $14 million referendum question on March 12, 2019 which requests funding for air-conditioning units, field improvements, a media center overhaul and auditorium upgrades in the district’s six schools.
On Sept. 17, the nine-member board voted to move forward with submitting school facilities project applications to the state Department of Education for authorization of a special election in six months.
On a 20-year bond, the tax impact would be $185.72 annually on the average home assessed at $563,170 if voters approve the question.
Board Secretary Michael Rinderknecht said the Board of Education could get up to 40 cents on the dollar from the state Department of Education for the air-conditioning units if the project is funded via a referendum. Interim Superintendent Bruce Watson said the district could get between 25 and 40 percent in state debt service aid for the project as a whole if funded through a referendum.
Six board members voted affirmatively. Trustees Elizabeth Carr and Sheldon Hirschberg abstained. Edmund Hayward was absent.
Carr said her abstention was because of “too many unknowns” in the individual projects within the referendum.
“I’ve hemmed and hawed the last few weeks trying to figure out what we should do, and there [are] so many things that have to be done in this district infrastructurally, but education still comes first,” she said. “When I look at the review of these projects, there [are] too many variables for me and unknowns.”
While Hirschberg said he was in support of the air-conditioning units, he took issue with public transparency.
“We all had the opportunity to review the schematics and selected members of the public have seen them. Others who don’t regularly attend our meetings have not seen them,” he explained. “I just feel that if someone’s reading this particular resolution, it’s very, very broad. It gives us the ability to do anything we want as long as it’s in the schematic." He continued, "Even though I support the air-conditioning units in the elementary schools, I will be abstaining.”
The half-dozen residents in attendance did not speak on the referendum when the meeting was open to the public.
The projects are prioritized in the following order:
- $8 million air conditioning units for the district’s four elementary schools
- $1.5 million towards sprucing up the unkempt playing field at Alexander Hamilton School with a new irrigation system and installing a new fence between the property and the PSE&G right-of-way
- $3.2 million in renovations to the media center at the Glen Rock Middle and High School to create a maker space area for middle school students that will be sectioned off with a glass partition for a state-of-the-art TV studio for broadcast journalism students
- $1 million for a gut renovation of the Central School auditorium to provide for better seating, adding a lift from the hallway to create accessibility to the stage and acoustical improvements.
Talks on a referendum first budded a year ago when the board discussed new air-conditioning units for the district's four elementary schools given the malfunctioning thermostats in a number of classrooms and the need for new building management systems for the schools to provide for proper ventilation, cooling and heating. Unsatisfactorily hot and humid temperatures hovering in the mid-80s have impeded on student learning, as the classroom heat has even prompted early dismissal and resulted in heat stroke among many students, teachers attested at a June meeting.
While the board initially discussed having the air-conditioning units stand alone on the referendum question, board members discussed the addition of more projects to the chagrin of others given exceeding the $10 million limit they initially agreed upon months back.
“I think this resolution is a long time coming,” said Trustee Kevin Brennan. “It’s one of the reasons why I wanted to come onto the board. The other things were unexpected additions and I’m not 100 percent in love with them, as well. But I do understand it's better, at this part of the process, to ask for what we need and then massage as we do go along. I’m totally in support of this resolution.”
Said Trustee Megan Findley: “The air conditioning project is so responsive to the parents in the community that have been asking for this and frankly is a step that we need to take for the workplace conditions of the teachers, as well. Do I wish the price didn't go up with every month we delay, yes... Field renovation and auditorium repairs are both, from my perspective, health and safety things that just have to be taken care of.”