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Letter: Board of Ed President 'We Need to Bond the Roofs'

Richard Mattessich says "we can't afford... to simply harp on the past."

On Tuesday, December 11, 2012, voters will be asked whether they want to fund a bond referendum in the amount of $13.6 million for roofs. Many in the community agree with the Board of Education that roofs are a necessity and understand that they need to pay for them. There is disagreement over how roofs should be paid for – bond referendum or reallocation of the existing operating budget. What we really can’t afford to do right now is to simply harp on the past.  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. Let me explain those two positions.

First – we need to bond the roofs. That is my opinion. The alternative is to reallocate funds within the operating budget. I will describe that as making “cuts” to all areas of the operating budget because that is what will be required.  Some have described the notion that the Board of Education is stating that it will make cuts if the bond fails as a “threat,” made in order to get people to vote for the bond. It is not a threat. 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. It would be nice if there had been a large sum of funds previously designated to fund future roof replacement that we could use right now. We could have new roofs and maintain our excellent academic and extracurricular standards. But harping on the fact that such a pot of funds does not exist, or promoting the notion that therefore we must somehow “show the Board of Ed” by voting no, gets us nowhere. We can cut programs and increase class size if we need to. As a Board of Education, we don’t think that would be in the best interest of our students. We have to care about all 6,300 plus students that we have today, and we have to care about the role our educational system plays in maintaining Westfield as a desirable location for those seeking to raise their children in the future.

Second – we need to make sure that we don’t find ourselves in the same position the next time roofs (or other large projects) need replacement. The law now allows us to designate and save funds for long term projects. That has not always been the case. Much has been made of using funds for ongoing maintenance projects versus using funds for longer term capital projects. The bickering is pointless. We need to do both. As I have said publicly, we will discuss as a Board during our annual budget process (which has begun and which will run through March), how much we should be depositing from the overall annual budget into a longer term capital account for future replacements. That sounds a lot easier than it is – the money has to come from somewhere. For every dollar we deposit into a longer term capital projects account, we will reduce what we spend in our operating budget. No doubt people will disagree over how much to fund and what should be reduced as an offset. And, while no one will acknowledge this, some residents will be annoyed that their tax dollars will be deposited into a fund that may not be used for 20 years, since they might not be living in Westfield in 20 years when the money will be spent. But they will need to understand that they will indirectly benefit from a thoughtful savings process, which we can undertake a little each year, without undermining the excellence in education that so many good people in town have worked to build up over many years. And, of course, people will need to remember that if the State comes in and effectively “takes” the funds we are accumulating for future projects like roofs, that we saved the money in the first place for a responsible reason. I put “takes” in quotes because the State probably would not just take the money -- they would see it sitting there and reduce our State aid. So before we all keep harping on the past, let’s simply learn from it, and use our energy to move forward rather than to keep looking backward. 

Thanks.

Rich Mattessich

President, Westfield Board of Education    

JERSEY GIRL December 11, 2012 at 05:38 PM
TIred of hearing the threat of overcrowded classrooms. Maybe if Teachers/ Admin staff were not permitted to have their children attend schools in town, plus the families that move out of Westfield that still have their children enrolled, sitting in said classes, perhaps there would be a difference. Dont understand the negative comment regarding Mandarin, we all know Latin is a "dead language". Many of these parents are in a position to pay for private schools, private tutors, etc.. I honestly feel the high test scores are a product of that, not student teacher ratio. Sure some teachers are better than others, we all have experienced the lack luster ones I'm sure, dont think three or four extra students in a classroom will make that much difference. For the programs such as AP and Proj 79, possibly allow enrollement starting sophmore year to avoid an overcrowding situation. I think we live in a generation of parents who refuse to say no to their children,who expect and want everything done "now". I dont think all these costs should fall on the taxpayers, whether they have children in the school or not is irrelevant.
Checking the Facts December 11, 2012 at 06:57 PM
I was also at a number of meetings and heard the full Board vote to give Tax Relief back to taxpayers- I don't recall the exact amount but I belief they set aside close to $2 Million dollars over the next two years to do that- not much fanfare- just did it- but of course nobody remembers that part- And if you have a problem with PTO's calling parents then you are really nuts.
Gary McCready December 11, 2012 at 09:01 PM
A few comments - Teachers and staff have not been allowed to enroll new students in town schools (unless they are residents) for several contracts now. The only ones that remain are those that are grandfathered in due to prior enrollment before the change. In any case, those students are assigned to schools where the enrollment is lowest for the grade they are in so those students are usually not a factor in overcrowding. - There are very few freshman taking AP classes, so that is probably not an issue, and I would hope the focus is on getting students in Project 79 sooner as freshman and eventually into regular classes (I don't really know how that operations, though). - I think we live in a generation where no one likes to hear "no"...
Gary McCready December 11, 2012 at 09:05 PM
I just believe the BoE should do whatever it takes to pass a bond it supports, and be very clear as to the techniques that are used. It is a fine line to draw between providing information and campaigning. And usually once they decide on an action, they should move forward as quickly as possible, for if no other reason then need to do a second vote if the first one does not pass!-)
South Westfielder December 11, 2012 at 10:29 PM
@ Gary, we live in a generation where no one wants to hear "no", and behaves as if they are the only ones who are entitled, absolve themselves of responsibility and accountability, blame others, only look at the surface of a problem, and the list goes on.

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