NEWTON, NJ—With an unanimous vote, seven members of the Newton Board of Education approved a resolution to hold a bond referendum to expand Merriam Avenue School in September.  

The board will ask the community to approve the "$18,950,001 school facilities renovation and expansion project" at a special school district election to be held on Tuesday, September 26, 2017.

Two members of the public, Frank Leone, a reverend at the Christ Community Church and Mayor Wayne Levante, spoke on the issue before the vote during the public session.

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“I was wondering if it would be wise to put the information about how this will impact the taxpayers in the explanation when you put it on the ballot, as I know that when many go to vote on this they will be thinking ‘how will this affect me,’" Leone said.

Mayor Levante discussed a concern with the board in regards to staffing once the plan is completed at Merriam for the expansion.

There are "lots of concerns, [but] not because of the plan," Levante said. "I think consolidating is very good but if we don’t cut any staff members to get that $182 per $100,000 asessed value, this isn’t going to pass and it is a waste of time. We really only have once chance to get this right.

"I think, given the amount of time and energy your board, my board and the professionals have put into this, we have to execute this perfectly. The perception from the public is that if you consolidate, you need to cut staff and it is my understanding so far that that is not going to happen.”

Superintendent, Dr. Ken Greene said, “Personnel decisions are regularly part of our budgeting process. We do it every year, so I believe it would be a misinterpretation to say we will do nothing about staffing. We will address that at the appropriate time and see what will become of that.

"I do want to acknowledge that our overall fiscal year 2017 budget was nearly $500,000 below what the state considers adequate, so cutting staff would not be consistent with the fact that were already not spending what the state considers to be adequate," Greene

The district was recently advised of an increase in the state aid they will receive for the 2017-2018 school year.  This increase in aid will go to reducing the local tax levy. Newton Board of Education will now receive $12,658,194 nearly half of the $28.4 million budget. 

The impact of the increased state aid to individual property tax payers results in a decrease of $18.45 per $100,000 of assessed value.  Initially the tax impact was to be more than $37 per $100,000.  The increase in state aid will lower that impact to $19.39 per $100,000.

The increase in aid was announced after the budget stalemate during which the state government was effectively shut down for three days.  The budget that was passed included additional state aid to Newton school district.

Board member Anthony Neggers III, spoke during the discussion portion of the vote. This is Neggers’ second time voicing his concerns about the feedback he has received from the residents regarding to the increased tax burden.

At the end of the discussion all members present, Neggers, John Jackson, Jessica Egner, Stella Dunn, Ed Caffrey, and Tina Larsen voted in favor of the resolution

The explanatory statement describes the project the board has been working on for the past two years. It also includes the total cost of the project and the boards’ funding methods as well as state aid numbers. 

The resolution states the following information:

“Whereas, the Board of Education of the Town of Newton School District in the County of Sussex, New Jersey, in connection with its planned decommission of the Halsted Middle School (as approved by the New Jersey Department of Education) seeks to submit a school facilities project to the School District voters consisting of the renovation and expansion of the Merriam Avenue School and the reconfiguration of such school into a grades pk-8 school, at an aggregate cost no exceeding $18,950,001 and

Whereas the board intends to finance the project cost through its issuance of not exceeding $18,693,675 in long-term school bonds and a $256,326 cash contribution from the School District Capital Reserve Fund and

Whereas NJDOE has approved the decommission of the Halsted Middle School and has awarded an aggregated 16.3355% in State Aid to the School District for the project, representing 53.7532% of the $5,758,872 in state aid-eligible project costs…

Whereas in order to proceed further with this project, the board now seeks to present the project to the School District voters for their consideration via a special ballot question at a special School District Election to be held on Tuesday, September 26, 2017 and to authorize certain actions required be taken in connection with the conduct of the election and the undertaking of the project.”

Going forward, the board agreed to form an Ad Hoc committee made up of members of the board of education, town council and PTO. The committee will also include community members who expressed interest in participating through the public survey disseminated at the beginning of the project. The committee will keep the public informed day about the project and answer any questions any residents have, from now until the vote.