Passage of District Referendum Expected to Make Township Schools “21st Century Ready”

The numbers may have changed slightly, but the results are the same: The township’s special $9.935 million public school district bond referendum for refurbishing and updating Jefferson’s schools is a done deal.

According to the Morris County clerk’s office, the tally – which now includes mail-in ballots – is 1,177 in favor of the referendum and 1,016 against. (The initial, unofficial count from voting machines on the night of the October 2 referendum was 1,157 in favor and 960 opposed.)

All told, 2,193 ballots were cast in this special referendum, which had been a fiercely debated item for weeks. The slim margin of approval, however, made the difference in whether the township would be eligible for up to 40% of state aid. Now, with eligibility for state assistance, the tax burden on Jefferson homeowners will be diminished. Although the topic of local taxes is always a hot-button issue among residents, the impact of the bond referendum is projected to be less than $5 per month per household.

“We are very grateful to everyone who came out to support our district,” stated Jeanne Howe, superintendent of Jefferson Township schools. “Every student deserves the best environment possible in which to learn,” she added.

Positive Impact on Students and Township

Howe noted that projects funded by the referendum will affect every student in the district by enhancing school safety, providing healthier and more sustainable schools, and improving instructional spaces. “We are so thankful for the outcome and are thrilled to be able to begin these exciting projects,” Howe said.

Township mayor-elect Eric Wilsusen, himself a graduate of Jefferson Township High School (JTHS), told The Jefferson Chronicle he had always been openly supportive of the referendum. One of his daughters now attends the high school and the other graduated last year.

“My oldest daughter graduated in 2017, my youngest daughter will graduate in 2019, and I am the current Jefferson Township High School PTSA president. I know firsthand what our schools need,” he said. “The community needed this referendum to help bring us into the 21st century of learning.” Wilsusen acknowledged that Jefferson has good schools, “but we are starting to lag behind other districts, especially in technology.”

Noting that home value is a major concern of many residents who were in favor of the referendum, Wilsusen pointed out that “schools are one of the first items a buyer will inquire about when choosing a community and a home. The school improvements will help not just the students served, but the community as a whole,” the future mayor added.

Projects in the $9.935 million bond will fund necessary repairs and upgrades of aging facilities, enabling the district to live up to the slogan that promoted the referendum: “21st Century Ready.”

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Modernization Is Key

The scope of work includes modernized science and technology labs, security upgrades, renovated locker rooms, dedicated Makerspaces (areas with various tools and materials where students can design, experiment, and invent to make the lessons they learn in the classroom come to life), and more. All projects are now eligible for up to 40% in state aid.

JTHS 2018 graduate and class valedictorian Kalen Luciano vouched for the necessity of school improvements throughout the township. “Being a recent graduate of the Jefferson Township school district, I saw firsthand the necessity of this referendum to pass,” he wrote in an email to The Chronicle. “The bulk of the referendum went to renovating crumbling facilities and bringing the quality of the school buildings in the district to ‘21st Century Ready’ standards.”

Luciano, a former editorial contributor to The Chronicle, added, “Regardless of whether residents have children, grandchildren, nephews, or nieces in the district, this referendum was crucial not only for the students directly affected by the referendum’s passage, but for the entire community as well.”

Board of Education president Jill Van Ness noted that she believes the board “presented voters with a plan that was fiscally responsible and will enable the district to fund the repairs and upgrades of our aging facilities to better prepare Jefferson Township students for the 21st century. Our current and future students will continue to benefit from this referendum for years to come.”

Now a student at Northwestern University, Luciano concurred by stating, “We all have a vested interest in providing our children with a quality education.” He added, “Young people are truly the future of our world, and we need to invest in their education. The quality of their education, from facilities to educational resources, needs to be top-notch if we want to see generations succeed both now and in the future.”

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Maria Weiskott is a Jefferson Township resident and a forty year veteran of the publishing profession. An award-winning journalist and editor, she served in top managerial positions at numerous business-to- business newspapers and magazines including Reed Elsevier and Fairchild Publications. Early in her career she operated a local newspaper in the Passaic Valley towns of Little Falls, Totowa and the former West Paterson. Following retirement, she launched a “ghostblogging” service that provides social networking update and blogging services for small and medium sized businesses. Maria travels widely with her husband and is a passionate photographer. She can be reached at