How Will You Vote? Bond Referendum to Be Decided Tuesday
Polls will be open from 7 a.m. until 9 p.m.
After months of debate, Westfield residents will have a chance to cast their ballots tomorrow, Dec. 11, for or against a $13.6 million bond referendum that would fund repairs on more than three-quarters of the school district's roofs. Polls will be open from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m.
In September, residents voted against a $16.9 million bond referendum that would have covered those repairs as well as paid for the installation of a lighted turf field at Westfield High School. Following the defeat by a 2:1 margin, Westfield Board of Education members said they "heard" voters and on Oct. 21 unanimously approved a referendum that does not include a turf field but will account for the full cost to replace and repair the roofs of the 12 district-owned buildings in need. The bond would spread the cost over 20 years, which is estimated to be the life of the roofs.
While some residents are relieved to see the field off the table, others believe the amount they're being asked to approve is still far more than they're comfortable with and have questioned why only those roofs in the most dire conditions couldn't be replaced now, with funds saved going forward to pay for the others at a later date.
In a letter to the editor, Westfield Schools Superintendent Margaret Dolan said "current low bond interest rates make this a favorable time to issue bonds" and estimated the tax impact to the average homeowner at $31 in 2014. As existing bonds reach maturation, the total tax impact would decrease dramatically over the life of the new bond, she stated.
Should the bond pass, work on the high school's roof, which carries the most expensive price tag – an estimated $4 million – and is in the worst shape, with 83 percent requiring removal and replacement, would be completed during the summer of 2013. Work on one other school could also be completed during the same time frame. The remaining buildings would be completed during the summer of 2014.
If the bond is defeated, the $4 million for the high school roof would have to come from the 2013-14 operating budget, resulting in budget reductions of an equal amount. Those cuts, as outlined on the district's website, would include reductions in staff, resulting in larger class sizes, fewer fine arts and sports programs as well as a decrease in electives. Other facility improvements would also be postponed.
Recently, residents took issue with several district principals who sent home letters to parents advising them of the impending cuts should the bond fail.
In a letter to the editor, A. John Blake said he viewed only sending letters to parents rather than to all taxpayers as an act of "subterfuge."
"To mobilize only the parents and remind only the parents is a biased act unto itself. To threaten dire results to be borne by the children of those parents borders on extortion," he wrote.
BOE President Richard Mattessich, in a letter to the editor, addressed comments regarding these letters, noting that the information they contain shouldn't be viewed as a threat but rather as the impending reality should the bond not pass.
"What would people say if the bond fails and we never told them that, as a result, our budget discussions starting in January will have a very real focus on the implications of elementary class sizes with an upper end of 30, or a significantly reduced sports program, or significantly reduced fine arts program, or fewer counselors, etc. That is a reality. And as unpleasant as it might be to have to say it, we can’t turn a blind eye to it," Mattessich wrote.
Dolan implied that the 96 percent reduction in State aid that amounted to $4.2 million less in revenue in 2010 coincided with Westfield public schools' enrollment ballooning to the largest in 33 years, creating a veritable one-two punch to the district.
Still, many have criticized spending choices made by past and present Board members, including 3.9 percent raises for teachers given in 2010, but Mattessich stated that simply harping on the past would get the district nowhere.
"My view, and I have stated it many times publicly, is that we need to bond the roofs today, and we need to make sure we don’t find ourselves in the same position the next time roofs (or other large projects) need replacement," he stated.
While voter turnout is typically low for school board elections, Westfield's Sept. 24th election saw an uncharacteristically-high 24 percent of residents head to the polls.
Westfield is one of six districts to hold a special election for school construction on Dec. 11. Of those six, three other districts also cite roof repairs among renovations. The following is a list of the statewide referendums:
Proposal 1: Renovate high school and two elementary schools. (electrical systems, alarms, HVAC, building exterior, site improvements, roofs, etc.)
Total amount: $12,194,000
Proposal 2 (Contingent upon passage of Proposal 1):
Renovate high school auditorium and field, including installing synthetic turf, lighting and bleachers.
Total amount: $3,077,500
Install artificial turf, resurface all-weather track, and other track and field improvements. Unexpended funds from a 2009 referendum would be used toward the project.
Total amount: $1,400,000
Replace and repair roofs at three schools.
Total amount: $3,093,750
Construct additions and renovate two schools.
Total amount: $18,979,967
Renovate the South Amboy Elementary School (roof repairs, replace boilers, interior repairs, handicapped accessibility, mechanical systems, electrical, plumbing, etc.)
Total amount: $8,470,000
Check back with Patch throughout the day tomorrow for information on voter turnout and for election coverage after the polls close. Be the first to know. Stay up to the minute on the latest news by liking us on Facebook, following us on Twitter and subscribing to our newsletter.