MONTVILLE, NJ - About 30 people came to the Montville Township High School (MTHS) Media Center on Tuesday, Jan. 24 to hear James Tevis, Montville Township public school business administrator, give a presentation on the proposed school bond referendum that will be voted on in the 2017 fall election.
Tevis, Superintendent René Rovtar and the Board of Education members stressed that the monetary projections given in this presentation are only rough estimates. When figures are accurate, they will be made available to the public. The figures will be available 30 to 60 days before the election on Sept. 26, 2017.
Using the current figures, the estimated tax increase on an average Montville Township home valued at $528,093 will be $98.05 for the year, about $25 per quarter. These figures assume a 20 year bond term, a 3.75 percent interest rate, and with 34 percent debt service aid from the state.
Another very important point is that on the ballot there will be three referendum questions. Question #1 will include roof replacements, Heating, Ventilation, and Air Conditioning (HVAC) controls, restroom renovations, and media center renovations costing about $11 million. Question #2 is on gymnasium renovations costing about $3 million, and Question #3 is on air conditioning costing approximately $3.5 million. It is estimated that most of these projects are eligible for up to 40 percent in state debt service aid.
The important factor for residents to understand is that Question #1 must pass. If Question #1 does not pass, renovations on numbers 2 and 3 will NOT be able to be completed, even if they receive a majority of votes. Question #1 must pass for numbers 2 and 3 to move forward.
These points cannot be stressed enough, and Rovtar, administration and the Board of Education will do whatever it takes to get the word out there, so people will know what is being proposed, how it all works, and why it is necessary.
They have volunteered to make presentations at the Senior House, Women’s Club, and any other organization that will have them come to speak to the people of the township.
The exact wording of the ballot questions will be finalized over the summer.
Tevis explained that for about a year the Board of Education’s finance and facilities committee, Rovtar and himself have been working on developing this referendum. He continued to explain why the referendum is necessary.
According to the presentation, Tevis stated that even though the district spends approximately $1 million a year to maintain the facilities, “the funding falls short of meeting our needs and maintaining our aging facilities,” he said. The 2 percent tax levy cap also limits the ability to fund all capital needs through the annual budget. The district is dealing with seven schools and providing a safe learning environment for 4,000 students.
He explained that in 2015 the district conducted a Facilities Needs Assessment. “Over $56 million dollars of projects were identified,” stated Tevis. He went on to say that these projects included a wish list that will not be included in the referendum. The items in the referendum contain necessary improvements such as new roofs, improvements on restroom facilities, and the heating and cooling systems.
It was mentioned that the high school has not had restroom renovations since the early 1970s, and other restrooms in other schools also need more than cosmetic repairs.
The HVAC system not only needs updating, but the school needs HVAC controls, so that facilities can be controlled remotely and more efficiently. An example was given that if schools were to be closed for a snow storm, new HVAC controls would allow Steve Toth, director of facilities, to keep the heat down for the day, or if the temperature was extremely cold, HVAC controls would allow the heat to turn on a few hours earlier to make sure schools were heated for when students arrived.
Greg Somjen, architect of record for Montville Township schools, said that new HVAC controls will allow the system to function more efficiently, which in the long run, will save the district money.
Toth said that some of the pipes that control the heating system in the high school are broken and are under the concrete. They cannot be reached to fix. The new system will be able to bypass these pipes to ensure the high school will be heated evenly.
The referendum needs to be done now because the state offers “a discount of nearly 40 percent of the principal and bond interest cost for most of the proposed projects,” explained Tevis. This money is currently available through the state as debt service aid. He said that it would be foolish not to use this offer from the state. He also added the facts that construction costs and interest rates remain favorable.
Another factor is that the district “currently has an outstanding long term debt that will be retired by the end of 2023. As the old debt is retired, the new, lower principal and interest payment will replace it, helping to keep the debt portion of the tax levy stable, at a decreased level, after the initial impact.”
The proposed projects are roofing replacements for MTHS, Lazar, and William Mason, media center renovations for elementary schools and Lazar, and HVAC controls, restroom renovations, and gymnasium renovations for the entire district. The media center renovations will not be to the extent of the recent MTHS renovations.
By the next Board meeting on Feb. 7, the Board must pass a resolution allowing the submitting of documents to Trenton for review. Applications will be filed. The deadline for this is the middle of March for a fall referendum.
The tentative referendum timeline states that in the spring, the state will approve the application. If the state does not approve or grant the money in debt service aid, the township has the right to appeal the decision. In the summer, the Board will approve the actual referendum questions that will be on the ballot, and the election is anticipated on Sept. 26.
Tevis explained the application process. He said, “In conjunction with approving each of our referendum project applications, the NJ State Department of Education (NJDOE) will provide the district with a final cost determination concerning each project’s eligibility to receive as much as 40% in Debt Service Aid. This process, which is referred to as establishing Final Eligible Costs (FEC), is required before a school district is allowed to conduct a referendum by, (as in our case) holding a special election.”
Tevis said that the state “requires that school districts establish Final Eligible Costs (FEC), prior to conducting a referendum, in all cases. Further, a district may not seek voters' approval of local support (e.g. school bonds, capital reserve, lease purchase, etc.) for the school facilities project until the DOE has notified the district of the FEC for the project. In addition, no school facilities project may be constructed unless, if there is a local support amount, such local support has received voter’s approval as set forth in N.J.A.C. 6A:26-3.7.”
Residents Terry Cavanaugh and Pradipto Bagchi came to the podium to express their opinions on the referendum.
Cavanaugh, who is a former teacher in the district and in favor of the referendum, said that she is concerned that residents won’t understand how important this is. She wanted to stress reaching out to the senior citizens, who may not have children or grandchildren in the school system, and may not be in favor of the tax increase. Rovtar and the Board agree that presentations should be made at the Senior House and throughout the entire township.
A concern of Bagchi was that the 30 day allotted time for the bidding of construction jobs was not enough time to get a decent amount of accurate bids. He was reassured by Somjen that the time frame was appropriate.
He also was interested in whether the projects recommended for debt service aid would be accepted by the state. Tevis said that there is no 100 percent guarantee that they will get the whole 40 percent aid, but according to previous requests from other districts in the state, the state has given aid and followed through on its commitment.
Bagchi would like to see the public made aware of all the needs of the district that was included in the $56 M Facilities Needs Assessment including the wish list.
Residents Madhu and Shirisha Siluveru expressed their concerns about Zillow greatschools.org’s evaluation of MTHS and Lazar Middle School. They said the Zillow ratings show Valley View as a 10; MTHS dropped to a 7, and Lazar dropped to a 5. Rovtar said that she would look into the matter to see how the evaluation was conducted. Specifically, Rovtar will look into the methodology of the study focusing on what points the schools were evaluated. She also questioned Zillow as a reputable source. She said reputable sources such as Newsweek and NJ Monthly Magazine show an increase in ratings. Board President Matthew Kayne reassured the Siluverus' of the quality of Montville schools. Rovtar will address this matter at the next Board meeting on Feb. 7.