On Monday, September 24th, as a resident of Westfield, you will be asked to vote on a Bond referendum that would authorize the Board of Education to replace a large portion of roofs over our buildings and to build a lighted turf field with bleachers at the high school field. The total cost of the project is $16.9 million, excluding interest.
As a resident and a taxpayer of Westfield, I am asking you to join me in getting out to vote. I will be voting YES!
I have been on the school board since April 2011 and I ran with the intention of helping to make change in the District that would benefit all of our constituents. My kids are now out of the schools yet my focus remains being sure that we leave a lasting legacy of academics, community, athletics and fine arts. I believe that approving this bond will allow us to invest in our infrastructure and in the future of the kids who walk through our schools.
It is not a secret that if left to my own judgment, I would have structured the bond referendum differently. I voted in favor of two bonds so that residents could choose whether they supported one or both of the bonds. The Board works on a majority rule and the majority believed that packaging the two together was the best course of action. Although I did not agree, I have fully supported the passage of the one question bond.
I am writing to you now as both a parent and a taxpayer. It is obviously not easy to separate my views (board member vs taxpayer) but you have already heard my position as a Board Member at our public meetings. There are so many good reasons on both sides of the ledger and they have all been played out on the pages of the Leader, on the Patch and through the countless meetings that the BOE has hosted to communicate to the residents exactly what we would be getting for our investment. Here is why, as a taxpayer and a resident, I am voting yes:
- The roofs are in bad need of replacement. We can debate how we got here, but the fact is, we are here. We are faced with an ongoing stream of patches that will cost operating budget dollars each year unless we bond and fix them all now. Sure, would I have loved to have been on the Board years ago and been the one who said we need to save for our roofs. Well, I wasn’t and if you have followed along these last few months, you would know that it was not always as simple as saying, “yes, we want to save for the rainy day”.
- The fixed roofs will allow us to go back to a solar vendor and look for a new arrangement that would help lower our electricity rates and will help us conserve energy. The new roofs will also be much better insulated than what we have today. There is NO incremental money being spent on the new roofs to allow for solar. We lose nothing if we do not move to solar down the road.
- If we do not pass the bond, we will likely miss a window to complete all of the work over the next year and this will therefore cost us more repair money that will eventually be wasted. The money for these repairs WILL come out of the operating budget and will impact other services that we will be able to provide. We want to continue to develop our technology platform and this will cost money. This will need to come from the operating budget.
- The turf field buys us more capacity for our student athletes. We have a growing population of kids who participate in school and town sports programs. It is amazing to see how many kids take advantage of what we offer and our success has caused a significant need for more capacity. Can we do without a turf field? In my opinion, of course we can. But why should we do without it, if with some investment now, using bond rates at an all time low, we can help to develop a stronger foundation for the next 20 years. Every field in town was reviewed with members of the community and experts and it was determined after much deliberation that the High School Field was the best location for the field.
I am well aware of the comments made by our good neighbors near the school and I am committed to continuing the conversations with the neighbors as part of my role on the Facilities Committee. The many questions that they have raised have allowed the Board and the experts to better think through the project. I think that we have covered almost all of the issues that are out there and although it seems like every day a new question comes up, I believe that almost all of them have been answered. They might not be resolved to the liking of all, but that is why we all get to vote.
The School Board has been chastised for years on all sorts of issues. We do not invest in the future, we do not communicate well; we have no vision. I believe that this bond shows our commitment to ask voters to invest in the future of our district. For sure, had we not brought something like this to the public, you can be assured that someone down the road would have asked why we “had never thought about ………”
The Strategic planning process is in place for just this reason and both of these initiatives are part of that Strategic plan. We also have a five-year, rolling facilities plan. This is a list of infrastructure that needs to be maintained each year. Just this year alone, this Board approved the expenditure from our operating budget, more than $2.5 million to replace boilers, windows, bathrooms, add to our technology infrastructure and similar building projects. You have my commitment that we will continue to look for ways to reduce our operating expenses so that we can redeploy those dollars in the best possible way.
As a parent and a taxpayer, I urge you to vote on Monday, September 24th. The polls are open from 7AM to 9PM and you can visit your regular polling place in town to vote.
If you still have questions about the bond, please visit the district website at www.westfieldnjk12.org
Mark Friedman, Westfield
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