Updated at 11:06 p.m. Aug. 30

WESTFIELD, NJ — Parents may be able to send their children to full-day kindergarten at public schools here starting in 2022, but for that to happen the local school district would have to twice gain voters approval to hike taxes.

The proposal to expand to full-day kindergarten in the district includes the addition of 18 classrooms that would be split between Jefferson and Washington elementary schools, architect George Duthie told the Board of Education this week. The project would cost about $11.8 million, monies that would pay for the construction, furniture, communication technologies, doors, utilities and all other associated costs, Duthie said.

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If approved by voters, the bond referendum would hike school taxes by $285 for the owner of a Westfield home assessed at the average value of $795,159 in the first year of the bond's issuance, according to school officials. That figure would have the potential to increase in future years based on the following schedule of tax levy increases, the officials said.

  • 2019-20 – $101,420,397
  • 2020-21 – $103,448,805 (Tax Levy Increase: 2%)
  • 2021-22 – $108,517,781 (Tax Levy Increase: 4.9%)
  • 2022-23 – $107,688,137 (Tax Levy Decrease: 0.7%)
  • 2023-24 – $112,901,920 (Tax Levy Increase: 4.8%)

The 11,450-square-foot additions to Jefferson and Washington schools would both include nine classrooms, four of which can be divided in half for small-group instruction, the plans show. Individual toilets will be installed in each room, and new playgrounds would be built in different locations in order to accommodate the additions.

MORE: Westfield School Board OK's $108M Budget, Hiking Tax Levy 2.8%

To fund the additions, the district would conduct a public referendum to request funding for the project. If the referendum were approved, the district would be authorized to sell bonds and incur debt to pay for the construction of the buildings.

Vote on the vote

The board is expected to vote on whether the district will move forward with the referendum during its Dec. 3 meeting.

Last June, a majority of the board supported the proposal. Board President Peggy Oster, Vice President Amy Root along with members Kent Diamond, Brendan Galligan, Robert Garrison and Brian Morrissey said they would support the introduction of the referendum; while board members Gretchan Ohlig, Michael Bielen and Tara Oporto said they would not.

If the school board moves forward with the referendum, the public would then vote on the bond proposal during a special election on March 10, 2020, school officials said.

The board had considered full-day kindergarten in recent years, and interest in full-day kindergarten was reignited earlier this year.  In June, the school board discussed the March referendum date and securing funding for a full-day kindergarten program to start in September of 2022.

The March referendum, if approved, would be the first of two public votes necessary for the full-day kindergarten expansion.

The second bond referendum, a proposal that would approve a $3 million increase in the district’s budget in order to fund teacher salaries, would be introduced for public vote in November 2021, School Business Administrator Dana Sullivan said.

The budget increase would allow the district to hire 18 to 20 teachers for full-day kindergarten, School Business Administrator Dana Sullivan has said. If both measures were to pass, full-day kindergarten would be available in Westfield’s public schools beginning in September 2022.

Westfield voters last approved a school bond referendum in 2016.

The board encourages residents who have ideas or opinions about full-day kindergarten to reach out via email. Emails can be sent to wboe@westfieldnjk12.org.