The Nutley School District has long suffered the consequences of reactionary policy decisions. We have repeatedly found ourselves in this position before, confronting issues only when they reach crisis point. The district has had an overcrowding problem since the first trailer was installed at Yantacaw prior to 2004; yet, rather than addressing the issue incrementally over time, we were first presented with a referendum proposal for nearly $70 million in November 2017. Like it or not, we are out of time — something MUST be done. You don’t have to have children in school to recognize that the District has an overcrowding problem. It’s impossible not to notice the mounting number of trailers appearing in school yards in town. Aside from the fact that the trailers do not provide an optimal learning environment for our children, these trailers are, quite frankly, a blight on the town. And, given that schools are one of the primary factors people look at when searching for a new home, the overcrowding issue may very well affect our home values. People are angry. Parents of students attending class in trailers are understandably angry, and the community at large is angry. The median property taxes for Nutley is $11,010.79![i] Trailers in a community with these property taxes (or any community) is UNACCEPTABLE! Period. Unfortunately, the District’s problems do not end here.

The schools are not only overcrowded, they are old and tired. As was the case with overcrowding, the writing has been on the wall for a long time. The approximate age of the elementary schools in Nutley is as follows: Lincoln – 104 years; Spring Garden - 102 years; Washington – 107 years; Yantacaw – 117 years; and Radcliffe – 64 years. The schools are EXHAUSTED! The average age of schools in the United States as of the 2012-2013 school year was 44 years.[1] According to the National Center for Education Statistics, “[a]fter 40 years, a school building begins rapid deterioration, and after 60 years most schools are abandoned.”[2] Nevertheless, the Nutley Board of Education proposed two referendums in 2017 and 2018, seeking nearly $70 million to, among other things, add on to two of these 100+ year old schools to address overcrowding.[3]

So, where do we stand? To begin with, we didn’t support the last two referendums because we felt that it was an extremely high-priced band aid – it didn’t provide one cent to three of the elementary schools, it didn’t factor in the potential for ON3 residential development (it couldn’t have because we are still uncertain as to what, if any, residential development they will seek), and it didn’t address the District’s aging infrastructure. We don’t believe anyone benefits in the end by supporting a subpar plan simply because there isn’t anything better on the table (certainly not at that price!). We believe that there should be multiple options offered to the citizens of Nutley; for example: an incremental plan where we address only the current overcrowding now for a reasonable cost, and go a step further as the past referendums we are still paying for are paid off; or a fully comprehensive plan that addresses all the District’s most critical issues, so that the people do not have to be presented yet another referendum proposal for a very long time to come.

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We believe, that the best solution for the district is a new, central elementary school, and feel that this avenue MUST be investigated further. Not to do so would be a great disservice to the students and citizens of this town because before long we will likely end up where we are today, again at a crisis point with respect to the age of our buildings.  A new centralized elementary school would: (1) enable the sixth graders to benefit from a true middle school model (all 6th grades would be housed together with the requisite technological tools); (2) ensure energy efficiency and state-of-the-art facilities; (3) address our aging infrastructure problem; (4) provide air conditioning (unhealthy classroom temperatures in the hot months is especially problematic with the high number of kids who suffer from asthma and allergies now); (5) address the stop-drop-and-go and traffic debacle that plagues our neighborhoods; and (6) provide superior security.

We won’t deny that building a new school would be a costly venture, but we think it’s more costly to continue to focus on spending millions of dollars to add on to schools that are more than double the average age of schools in this country. Such a venture would also require cooperation from our Township Commissioners, which we would hope they’d be willing to offer. By way of example, Lyndhurst recently built a new, state-of-the-art, energy efficient, 144,000 sq. ft. junior high school for a cost of approximately $55 million.[4] The Board of Education and the Board of Commissioners worked cooperatively to see this through. We believe, that we can do the same. Moreover, while we cannot speak to how much a new school in Nutley would cost at this time, looking at the Lyndhurst price tag certainly causes us to question the value of the $70 million dollar referendum that was presented to us last year.

The Board of Education has a duty to make decisions in the best interests of the students and the taxpayer. The current overcrowding evidences a dereliction of this duty, as this issue has been allowed to go unaddressed for far too long. However, we must think logically in our approach to addressing this crisis, as we do not want to swap one crisis for another – this will only hurt both the students and the taxpayer even further. We as a community need to decide whether and to what extent we want to keep pouring tax dollars into aging infrastructure. THAT is the real point — WE as a COMMUNITY need to decide the future of the district TOGETHER.

[1] “Data: U.S. School Buildings: Age, Condition, Spending.” Education Week, 19 Dec. 2018, www.edweek.org/ew/section/multimedia/data-us-school-buildings-age-condition-and.html?override=web.

[2] How Old Are America’s Public School?. nces.ed.gov/surveys/frss/publications/1999948/. Oct. 22, 2019.

[3] The most recent referendum proposal of 2018 sought $14.5 million for Yantacaw school, which included an addition of six classrooms, a multi-purpose room and toilet facilities; and $9.6 million for a three-story addition of six classrooms and toilet facilities for Washington School.

[4] “In November 2014, the Board of Commissioners condemned Lincoln School and declared it an area in need of redevelopment. The plan was to close the school and hand it over to the township, who in turn would sell off the property to a developer to offset construction costs of the junior high school at Matera Field. The commissioners bonded $50 million last year for construction of the new school.” Sobko, Katie. “Lyndhurst to Start over on Planned Junior High School.” North Jersey, NorthJersey, 26 July 2017, www.northjersey.com/story/news/bergen/lyndhurst/2017/07/26/lyndhurst-start-over-planned-junior-high-school/512696001/.

[i] Davis, Tom. “Every NJ Town’s Average Property Tax Bill in Newly Released List.” Brick, NJ Patch, Patch, 27 Feb. 2018, patch.com/new-jersey/brick/every-nj-towns-average-property-tax-bilss-newly-released-list.