In an effort to show attendees why a proposed $9.935 million referendum up for vote on October 2 is so crucial to the Jefferson school district, superintendent Jeanne Howe presented a short film designed to educate the public at the September 10 Board of Education meeting. The short video gave a visual representation of all of the maintenance and repairs schools throughout the district need and showcased images of decaying locker rooms, water damaged ceilings, and broken hinges on doors and tables. See the video here: https://www.jefftwp.org/Page/1627

The video stressed the slogan of “21st Century Ready” as the justification for the proposed referendum. It is touted as a “no-frills renovation and construction project.” The district’s website states: “The proposed referendum would fund improvements necessary for the district to provide safe and accessible facilities as it promotes the highest standards of academic excellence as well as fostering a nurturing environment and strong school spirit – known throughout our small, close-knit community as Falcon Pride!”

Howe explained the goal of the referendum is to invest in much needed maintenance repairs such as roofing the majority of the high school, upgrading intercoms, smoke alarms, and fire alarms district-wide. The renovations will also include revamping the Makerspaces in the high school and middle school and the creation of Makerspaces in some elementary schools. Lab facilities would be upgraded as well.

Where is the money going?

While The Jefferson Chronicle did not receive a line item budget, Howe presented the allocation of money to each school and the projects proposed:

$4,707,625 JTHS

  • Modernize science labs
  • Add a new technology lab
  • Create a dedicated Makerspace
  • Renovate locker rooms
  • Replace exterior brick face
  • Update/replace fire alarms
  • Replace roof sections
  • Replace interior doors
  • Replace flooring where necessary
  • Upgrade restrooms

$2,472,720 JTMS

  • Modernize science labs
  • Add a new technology lab
  • Create a dedicated Makerspace
  • Renovate locker rooms
  • Update/replace fire alarms
  • Replace interior doors
  • Replace flooring where necessary
  • Upgrade restrooms

$577,840 Arthur Stanlick Elementary

  • Create a Makerspace
  • Update/replace fire alarms
  • Replace flooring where necessary
  • Replace interior doors
  • Upgrade restrooms

$695,120 Briggs Elementary

  • Replace exterior brick face
  • Adding new fire alarms
  • Replacing flooring where necessary
  • Replacing interior doors
  • Upgrading restrooms

$396,800 Cozy Lake Elementary

  • Replace exterior brick face
  • Replace flooring where necessary
  • Replace interior doors
  • Upgrade restrooms

$126,800 Milton Elementary

  • Replace interior doors
  • Upgrade restrooms

$959,055 White Rock Elementary

  • Create a Makerspace
  • Update/replace fire alarms
  • Replace interior doors
  • Replace flooring where necessary
  • Upgrade restrooms

District-wide Projects

  • Adding and upgrading technology
  • Upgrading the intercom system
  • Adding new clocks
  • Upgrading the key system

If the referendum passes, projects such as roof renovations and asbestos abatement will occur over the summer of 2019. The renovation of the Makerspaces and science labs is scheduled to begin in the summer of 2020. Other projects that do not affect daily instruction may occur sooner.

What the heck is a Makerspace?

A Makerspace is a collaborative work space inside a school for creating, learning, exploring, and sharing knowledge. These may include a variety of equipment including 3D printers, laser cutters, soldering irons and even sewing machines. A Makerspace, however, does not need to include all of these machines or any technology at all. Makerspaces are not defined by a specific set of materials, but rather the mindset of those who use them. Per the referendum FAQ provided by the BOE, “Some of the items that may be found in a Makerspace include 3D printers, recycled materials, green screens for media production, Legos, computers for coding activities, littleBits electronic building blocks, etc.”

What’s the Bottom Line?

The town is expected to fund and pay off the project within a twenty-year period by repaying an average of $300,000 a year. The average homeowner’s cost would be $51 dollars a year, less than $5 dollars per month.

All of the projects included in the referendum are eligible for up to 40% of New Jersey state aid​. The state aid reduces the amount the district will need to repay and therefore, lowers the costs to residents. However, the referendum must be passed in order to receive the state aid.

Many attendees were confused why the state aid could not be utilized if the referendum did not pass. When the board wrote the proposal for the referendum and its specific projects, it included a state obligation to compensate the town for 40% of the project. State money granted to the board is project specific and if the referendum does not pass, the state aid cannot be utilized in any other way. This presents a challenge because the board of education cannot fund these projects independently.

State Money Loss

The board of education stressed that the referendum is crucial to the future success of the schools within the district. Due to decreasing enrollment rates, the district will lose $7 million in state aid over the next seven years. In 2018, the district lost $554,620 in state aid. The board states this cut in funding is through no fault of any specific political party, but rather the lower influx of students within the district as a whole. In addition, the board emphasized that its financial advisors state now is the time to act. Interest rates are significantly lower than in the past 15 years (approximately 4.5%) and construction costs are stable. The board wants to ensure the inflation rate will not affect the repayment plan established.

Why a Special Election?

Many residents wondered a special election is needed on October 2, since the date is so close to the general election held in November. Howe states it is simply more cost effective. Per the state, there are only four dates per year that a school election may be held. October 2 was selected in order to minimize costs and share certain election costs with Randolph and Rockaway Township, who are holding elections on the same date.

Election staffing information was provided by town council member Michele Reilly in an email exchange with The Jefferson Chronicle. “My Deputy Clerk and I will be working the election. Poll workers are provided by the County Board of Elections and I suspect we will have two poll workers per voting district for a total of 28, but I won’t know for certain until right before the election,” Reilly stated. Other town departments such as the DPW, Police Department, Recreation and Senior Services provide support for the Clerk’s office during all elections; erecting barricades and signs, setting up the polling locations, directing the flow of traffic if necessary, etc.

The special election will cost the township an estimated $15,000 to $18,000.

Vote!

Polls will be open from 2 p.m. to 8 p.m. on October 2 at the usual polling stations. Voter registration deadline was September 11. If you are already a registered voter, there was no need to register again. The deadline to apply for an absentee ballot is September 25.

The BOE encourages all residents to attend a joint meeting with the town council on September 18 at 7 p.m. in the municipal building to hear plans for the referendum in order for residents to make an educated decision on October 2. The BOE will also be holding an event called “Snacks with the Superintendent” on Wednesday, September 19 at 10 a.m. in the JTHS cafeteria. The event is an invitation meet and engage in discussion with the new superintendent, Jeanne Howe.

Information on the voting process and polling stations may be found here: http://www.jeffersontownship.net/

Details of the referendum may be found here: https://www.jefftwp.org/referendum

Peyton Riegel contributed to this story.

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