MILLBURN, NJ — In the final weeks before a referendum vote on a new budgetary plan, members of the Millburn BOE and School District took their presentation on the road, and in front of the township committee.
Superintendent Dr. Christine Burton and outgoing BOE member Emily Jaffe, the board's former finance chair for the past few years both spoke before the township committee to explain the basis of the Capital & Maintenance Plan (C&MP).
C&MP is the Millburn Township School District's plan to improve and maintain school district facilities, while maintaining a flat debt schedule, by issuing new bonds as existing debt expires.
This proposed referendum will provide for new construction additions, renovations, alterations and improvements at all schools across the District. By financing through a bond referendum, taxpayers will benefit from state-funded debt service aid of up to 40 percent of the project costs.
Most of the money, $12,932,070 worth will go towards general infrastructure upgrades around the district. As Dr. Burton and Jaffe both noted, Millburn's schools are aging, and a full fix is needed instead of a temporary band-aid.
$3,495,055 would be used to install security vestibules in all the district schools besides Washington School, which was already refitted with the technology to make schools more secure. The remaining $4,072,875 would be used to improve the Millburn Middle School cafeteria, which needs expansion and other improvements.
One reason for the new financing strategy is that roughly 85 percent of the district's operating budget is non-discretionary, tied up in salaries, benefits, utilities and other avenues which historically has left only a few hundred thousand dollars each year for capital repairs on a series of aging buildings across the district.
As Jaffe noted when she spoke with TAPinto, passing the referendum will help to streamline financing of future bond referendums. She said that getting C&MP passed was especially important.
"It's incredibly important," Jaffe said. "I wouldn't take more time out of my life away from my other duties and responsibilities if I didn't feel that way."
Jaffe continued, "I feel passionately about this project for our school district, and I'm happy to share my time and expertise, but more so my take on the whole thing for the community should any questions come up, because this really is for the benefit of us all."
She also noted that the project would be financed by taking on new debt at the same rate as the expiring debt, a tactic that has been successfully implemented in other school districts, including next door in SOMA. As a result, taxpayers would not see an increase in the amount of money they owe for school payments.
In her prior presentations, Jaffe also noted that thanks to the school district's AAA credit rating, the District anticipates continued best execution and interest rates when it accesses the capital markets.
Speaking after the meeting with TAPinto, Mayor Diane Thall-Eglow said that hearing from the district members was important, but was a first step in a process that still has a way to go.
"As you know, there's a wall between the township committee and the board of ed," Eglow said. "I can't speak to understanding. As I said in my report, our buildings are old, and we'll need to find ways to repair.
"And how we do that is also going to be of concern to next year's township committee. Our board and the board of ed have big jobs ahead of them because we have a big responsibility to our constituents and our residents."
The referendum vote will be held on Jan. 28, 2020. The final day to register to vote is Jan. 7, 2020. And the last day to mail in the vote-by-mail ballots for the referendum is Jan. 21.