WARREN, NJ - The Watchung Hills Regional High School District did not reach the seven votes needed at a special meeting on Wednesday to decide what to do with an additional $224,010 in state aid money released by Gov. Phil Murphy on July 13. Board president Peter Fallon also read a statement responding to board member Robert Morrison’s comments on the Warren Township Community Forum Facebook page. Fallon’s statement is included in its entirety.

In a twist of fate, the air conditioning was out in the school during Wednesday’s meeting.The proposed resolution to add air conditioning to the Gym 7/8 project received six ‘yes’ votes and two ‘no’ votes on Wednesday. Seven votes were needed to pass the resolution.

It was the same vote as at the last meeting on July 17.  Even though a majority voted in favor of the resolution, due to state requirements, a two-thirds majority of the entire board is needed for adoption. 

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Two board members of the ten member board were not present at either Wednesday’s special meeting or the last regular meeting. The resolution calls for the expansion of the cost of the building project already approved to replace the Gym 7/8 boys and girls locker rooms during the 2018/19 school year and appropriation of an the additional $224,010 from additional categorical state aid funds awarded to include the addition of air conditioning in Gym 7/8 to the project. 

Board members Dr. Gregory Przybylski and John Fahy were not present on July 17. Fahy and Morrison were not present on Wednesday.

Prior to the vote, Przybylski on Wednesday said that while he supports the use of funds to add air conditioning to the Gym 7/8 project, he was voting no since “we have disenfranchised members of the board who feel that re-voting on something already voted on before is not really fair.” He advocated for using capital reserve funds to pay for the project now. 

The budgeted cost of the Gym 7/8 project already approved is $1,200,000.

Gym 7/8 is used for gym classes, girls basketball and volleyball games, AP testing, summer camps and summer school.

Business Administrator Timothy Stys said the additional state aid money would now go into the surplus fund. Due to constraints on the use of state aid, the money will most likely sit in surplus until June 2019 when the board at that time can address its use.

This year’s budget is approximately  $46.04 million including money received from the state in the form of debt service for the turf field, Stys said. Last year’s budget of $47.31 million included paying off the school's turf field and capital projects from the 2013 bond referendum. 

Banked cap funds are not being used in this year's budget. 

Statement of Watchung Hills Regional High School Board of Education President Peter B. Fallon In Response to Robert Morrison’s posts in the Warren Township Community Forum 

Mr. Morrison keeps repeating on the Warren Township Community Forum that the “board voted down the resolution to spend the money last week.”  No, it did not.  Mr. Morrison and one other board member voted down those resolutions.  A majority of the entire ten member Board of Education voted in favor of the resolutions.  The vote was six to two in favor of adopting the resolutions.  Mr. Morrison did not argue on July 17th that we should not hold a vote because not all of board members were present. 

The resolutions were not adopted at the July 17, 2018 meeting because the state requires a two-thirds majority of the entire board to adopt such resolutions – in other words, seven of the ten members would have to vote in favor of adopting the resolutions.  With only eight of our ten members present at the July 17 meeting, adopting the resolutions would have required that seven of the eight board members present at the meeting vote in favor of adoption. That did not happen. Six of the eight members present that evening did vote in favor of adopting the resolutions.  The district did not know until Friday, July 13th that it would be receiving the $224,010 in additional state aid beyond what we were originally told back in March we would receive for the next school year.

Let’s look at why the administration has recommended using the $224,010 to fund the project to air-condition this particular gym.  This gym was to be air-conditioned in the 2004-2006 forty-two million dollar renovation of the high school, so the HVAC units installed on the roof for this gym have the chillers necessary to air-condition the gym, an expensive part of an overall air-conditioning project.  However, when the project ran out of money before the project was finished and the Board then came back to the public for an additional three million dollars, the scope of that renovation was reduced. Included in the things removed from it were the controls, wiring and certain other work which would have completed the air-conditioning of that gym.  Additionally, as pointed out by a former teacher at the high school on the forum, that gym regularly does get quite hot.  Not only is the gym used for A.P. testing in May, it is also used throughout the year for physical education classes, and it is used in the summer months by programs going on the High School. I would also note that even with the additional $224,010 in state aid for the upcoming school year, the total state aid we will be receiving is still far less than the  state aid the District received back in 2007 – because the State has been underfunding annual state aid to our district for over ten years.

 

Some people on the forum have asked how much the taxpayers would be receiving if this money is given back as tax relief.  The tax bill on an average assessed value Warren house would be $10.26 lower; it would be $9.03 lower for an average house in Watchung and $7.75 lower for an average house in Long Hill. 

 

In his July 23 post, Mr. Morrison also says: “This money is in addition to another $120,000 in unexpected aid the district has already reserved.”  It is not true that the $120,000 in aid which he refers to was unexpected.  The district was told back in March the total amount of state aid we were to receive for the upcoming school year, and that amount included the $120,000 to which Mr. Morrison refers.  However, at the time, Governor Murphy’s proposed budget also called for a variety of new taxes to fund school aid and other priorities to the entire state.  As a result, both our administration and our Board of Education were concerned that the actual amount we might receive once the state budget was finalized in June would be less than the amount we were promised in March.  That is why the Board reserved $120,000 of that amount, so that we would not have to scramble to find revenue if the state short-changed us – as it has done in the past – when revenue did not keep pace with the governor’s promises.

 

Mr. Morrison also stated in his original post: “ In an unprecedented move the Administration and Board President have called for a special meeting for THIS Wednesday evening [tonight] to revote on something the board has already taken action on (hold the funds in reserve).”  First, I, as Board President, have called this special meeting.  Mr. Morrison also acknowledged to me that he agreed that I have the right to call such a special meeting.  The administration acted at my direction in posting the notice of the meeting. Second, calling a special meeting to vote on a matter is not unprecedented.  Even re-voting on a matter previously discussed is not unprecedented. Third, the board did not take any action with regard to these funds at the July 17meeting. As noted above, seven votes are required to adopt budget resolutions such as these and neither position received seven votes because two members of our board were not present.  An additional requirement from the state in this matter is that any resolution with respect to either appropriating and spending or returning to the taxpayers this $224,010 has to be adopted before August 1.And so, because two members could not be present that night, and we had not learned of the need for a vote prior to August 1 until four days before the July 17 meeting, I said at the meeting that if there were not at least four votes against appropriating and spending this money that I would consider holding a special meeting to again consider this issue before August 1. 

 

Mr. Morrison objects to the special meeting.  I have called tonight’s special meeting to see if adoption of the resolutions can obtain the votes of seven members of our Board of Education before the July 31 deadline imposed by the state. 

 

The state has released revised numbers regarding state aid to all districts in New Jersey. 

 

The revised numbers were released by Gov. Phil Murphy July 13. They represent updated figures on a distribution of $8.5 billion in state aid for school districts as outlined in the state's budget.

For more on July 17 see

https://www.tapinto.net/towns/warren/articles/watchung-hills-regional-high-school-to-receive-ad

The Somerset County Vo-Tech, in Bridgewater, will see a 7 percent decrease in its state aid for the 2018-2019 school year, from an expected $1,543,011 to $1,428,562. This revised number is actually the same amount of aid the Vo-Tech received for the 2017-2018 school year.

For more on the WHRHS budget, see. 

https://www.tapinto.net/towns/north-plainfield-slash-green-brook-slash-watchung/sections/government/articles/watchung-hills-board-of-education-approves-46-mi

 

Additional state aid awarded to other local school districts:

Green Brook: $23,676

Warren: $0

Watchung: $29,734

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