On December 11, voters in Westfield will have the opportunity to decide how they want to finance the cost of replacing the majority of outlived roofing on our school buildings. A bond is a mechanism by which state, municipal and school bodies fund large capital expenses. This bond referendum before voters will spread the cost of the roofs over 20 years. Current low bond interest rates make this a favorable time to issue bonds. The tax impact to the average homeowner is estimated at $31 in 2014. Thereafter, the tax impact actually will decrease due to other bonds which will mature and be fully paid. The bond referendum has been reviewed by bond counsel and meets all legal requirements.
Roof concerns have been discussed at public Board of Education meetings 15 times over the last two years. These meetings have been televised, posted on our website, and covered in the media. The same information that is on our public website has also been included in Synopsis – which is subscribed to by the public, in PTO newsletters and messages to parents from our principals. It is the same, cohesive message with the same facts.
As stated at Board of Education meetings and on the school district’s website (www.westfieldnjk12.org/roofbond ), the failure of the bond referendum would result in a deep cut to the programs and services for 6,300 students, with a reduction of $4 million needed for each of the next 3 – 4 years. In order to re-allocate the $4 million, it would mean a reduction of approximately 50 positions (including teachers, counselors, librarians, administrators, paraprofessionals, secretaries and custodians), larger class sizes, and a reduction in electives, sports, and fine arts. Those of you who know me will understand that I do not make that last statement lightly.
Historically, the State helped fund up to 40% for school districts’ capital projects. That funding has been unavailable for the last few years. School districts also are limited to saving in a reserve fund and have a 2% cap placed on operating budgets. We in Westfield are still experiencing the aftermath of a 96% decrease in State aid amounting to $4.2 million less in revenue in 2010. The reduction in revenue comes at a time when we are witnessing the largest enrollment in the Westfield Public Schools in 33 years.
Although our schools buildings are old (average age 73 years), our maintenance staff has done an excellent job in keeping them safe. Studies by architects and engineers and reviewed by Board of Education members have determined that 77% of the roofs need to be replaced. I consider this advice seriously as I am responsible for continuing to provide for the safety of students and staff and to maintain the integrity of our infrastructure.
Comparative data compiled in the New Jersey Department of Education’s School Report Card illustrate that Westfield’s budgetary cost per pupil is $1600 less than the state average. Two of the components that comprise the comparative cost per pupil are “classroom salaries and benefits” and “administration salaries and benefits,” both of which are lower in Westfield than the state average. We have been successful in achieving efficiencies in our operations and have done so with energy, insurance, and shared services – to name a few.
Westfield continues to be a high achieving district as evidenced by the performance of our students. The Star Ledger's Inside New Jersey "Top Performing High Schools" ranked Westfield High School as the top performing comprehensive high school in Union County.New Jersey Monthly's "Top Public High Schools" ranked Westfield High School in the top 4% for Math and Language Arts proficiency among 328 public high schools in state. The 2011-12 school year ended with a total of 57 perfect SAT scores by our students.
The tradition of excellence in education has always been important to the Westfield community. Please remember to vote on Tuesday, December 11, 2012. Polls are open from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m.
Margaret Dolan, Ed.D.
Superintendent of Schools