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Letter: Westfield Schools Superintendent Addresses Upcoming Referendum

Margaret Dolan says reduction in revenue coincides with increasing enrollment.

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.

Thank you,

Margaret Dolan, Ed.D.

Superintendent of Schools

A.John Blake December 07, 2012 at 02:34 PM
Josh, Dr.Dolan does not enjoy the same status as Queen Elizabeth. Dr.Dolan should answer, especially when the questions are based on facts already conceded by members of the Board. Concerning the ethics of the messages being fronted by the principals: did the term " conflicts of interests" come to your mind? Did those letters mention that the principals might want the $13.6 million removed from the spending cap to ease the pressure on the Board for their salary demands? Did the Principals, in their plea to do right by the Children ,happen to mention the passage of the referendum would be helpful to their union in its negotiations with the Board? At the time of the last referendum, did you approve the use of the emergency phone system with a pro-vote message being read to all the I am well aware that the spending cap is on the operating budget. That is exactly why the Board wants to remove the maintenance costs of the roofs from that budget and away from the cap. Maintenance should be in the budget. Mrs. Clancy has commented on the bad state of the roofs since 2009. The Boards elected to not do the maintenance and now don't want to pay for their deferral. They want to move the mistake out of the budget and onto the backs of future taxpayers. This is wrong. When the roofs began to need repair or replacement, that should have been addressed. The board deferred. At what point does the taxpayer tell the BOE that we are tired of this sort of mismanagement? A.John Blake
FD December 07, 2012 at 02:49 PM
Clearly there has been financial mismanagement - how it is possible every school needs a new roof at the same time - and there appears to not be a dime set aside to pay for it. Tells me either no reserve additions were in the budget or it was spent on something else. I am very unhappy about it. The sad thing is that my children are being held hostage and so I need to pay the ransom. But I will remember at the next round of elections. I hope everyone else does. We are all responsible for voting them in.
Josh December 07, 2012 at 03:01 PM
Mr. Blake, Who said that Dr. Dolan should enjoy the same status of Queen Elizabeth? No one. It is straw man argument. Does she answer to people? Yes, she answers to BOE, who are elected by and answerable to the voters in Westfield. And she answers questions at the BOE meetings, which are open to public. To expect her to answer your specific questions in a form of your choosing is a little much. As for the conflict of interest, do you think that people in Westfield do not have brains? Do you think we don't realize that the principals would rather have more money for there schools than less? Do we not know that they are employed by the school system and the BOE wants to do the bond? We are able to process information and make decisions. I think you protest too much. We could go back and forth on this maintenance vs. replacement argument. I noticed that City of Westfield issued a $1 MM bond to replace the 19 year old ladder truck for the fire department. There were no reserves set aside even though the useful life of the truck was 20 years (just like the roofs). Where was the outrage and protest then?
Westfield Parent December 07, 2012 at 03:26 PM
Mr. Slater, how about these 21st century skills: be fair and humble, always truthful, treat EVERYONE equally, and live within your means! These are good for any century and are especially needed today in the town of Westfield.
FD December 07, 2012 at 04:05 PM
Josh - big difference between 1 and 14 million. A fire truck vs a towns entire school system of buildings. Do you not agree there was some serious financial mismanagement of the BOE?
UnionAtty December 07, 2012 at 04:49 PM
Josh, haven't you heard? This is Blake. His reputation is expanding faster than the universe. He lives vicariously through himself. He once had an awkward moment, just to see how it feels. When it is raining, it is because he is thinking of something sad. His shirts never wrinkle. He is left-handed and right-handed. If he were to mail a letter without postage, it would still get there. The police often question him just because they find him interesting. He is, Westfield's least interesting man. NB- Yes, yes, Blake, it's an ad hominem attack so spare us the future lecture. None of us care.
Josh December 07, 2012 at 04:57 PM
FD, No I do not agree that there was serious financial mismanagement by the BOE. In the past, it was cheaper to bond these things as the state would pick up 40% of the cost so prior boards intention was to bond these improvements. But even if I did think there was mismanagement, there is nothing I can do about what occured in the past. We can only change things going forward. The roofs are getting replaced one way or another. I don't want the cuts in staff and programs in the school and I will vote accordingly. I am no fan of taxes, but of all the taxes I pay, I see the most benefit from the money that gets spent on our schools.
EP December 07, 2012 at 05:03 PM
Josh, you are correct that what was done in the past can't be undone but what we do now and in the future has to be changed from what has been done in the past and that is we have to change the belief of the school district that anytime they need money and don't have it but want it, they will turn to the taxpayer and expect it.
Mark Friedman December 07, 2012 at 05:13 PM
As long as we are talking about other bonds, anyone read about the bond issued by the town to pay back taxes of people who got positive tax appeals? You see, its very easy to throw the stones. Perhaps we can all try and make the process productive rather than argumentative which so many on this board have done with respect to the roof bond issue. I for one, would love to have seen more people, especially the ones that write on this board, come out to a meeting every now and then and offer up their suggestions. We all would love to hear what you have to say.
Mark Friedman December 07, 2012 at 05:18 PM
EP- one thing to keep in mind-- the School Board operates based on the desires of the parents of Westfield who have charged us to maintain and improve upon the educational offerings that we have available for the kids. There has been no message delivered, at least that I have heard, that they are willing to make do with less in the schools. Sure, we can reduce services but the lions share of the statements that I get from parents is to add this add that and and most seem very willing to pay more in taxes to continue to develop what we do. For sure, we should look for ways to be more efficient and save where we can and we will do ever more of that in the future, but unless parents are willing to moderate their expectations, costs will go up to support new initiatives.
Josh December 07, 2012 at 05:20 PM
I think that if the schools system was wasting a lot of money, then Westfield would be spending a lot more money than the average in the state. But the reality is that Wesfield is spending a lot less money than the average in the state.
Pete December 07, 2012 at 05:51 PM
That's not the correct measurement. The correct measurement is Westfield is spending more money than it has.
Doogie Howser December 07, 2012 at 06:02 PM
This is an absurd argument. Why would you expect the cost of the school system not to go up by 2-5% each year? There is inflation in this world - have you worked for the same wages your entire career? Is the cost of gasoline the same as it was 15 years ago? Costs go up over time. Add to this, the fact that enrollment has soared in the district over the past decade. Do you not think it costs more to educate 6,000 students than 5,000? The tax assessments are not calculated on a per enrolled student basis - nor is the 2% cap adjusted for enrollment changes. As for the incomes of Westfielders - I would probably dispute your assertion. Corporate profits are at record highs, Wall Street bonuses have been huge over several of the past 5 years. I seriously doubt that the majority of WF'ers have seen their incomes decline over the past 5 years - yet this is what you ask of the people who teach our children. You have to look at the cost of our schools on a cost-per-pupil basis and compare to the towns we compare to. If you look at it on that basis, then yes - I think it is a job well done.
Pete December 07, 2012 at 06:02 PM
Mark, seriously? Of course people will continue to ask for more - especially when you keep giving it to them at other people's expense. It's precisely the BoE's job to say "sorry, but you can't always get what you want". At that point parents can always choose to pay directly for extras themselves or put their kids in private school if they feel that's appropriate. Yours and Mitch's comments show you don't actually have a clue. You're not supposed to sit there deciding to squander money that should be used for repairs just to appease parents. You're given a budget and you're well aware that the building maintenance is supposed to be included in the budget. Work out how to do so and stop threatening that the sky will fall if the budget isn't increased outside the set limits.
FD December 07, 2012 at 06:15 PM
Mr Freidman - the town had no way to forsee or forecast the recent tax appeals due to lower property values . The BOE has always known the roofs would need to be replaced and as I understand it the BOE never intended to budget for this and waited until it became the crisis that it is now to say please give me 14 million. I suppose next year we will hear that all the furnaces in the schools need to be replaced and a new bond will get floated for that as well. Is it your expectation that all capital repairs and improvements be paid for with bonds?
A.John Blake December 07, 2012 at 06:19 PM
To Mr. Friedman, You are probably correct that the BOE operates based on the desires of the parents of Westfield.The problem with that is that the BOE should represent all the people of Westfield.The BOE should try to deliver the best education possible. That would be the desire of the parents. Their job however is to deliver the best education that all the people of Westfield can afford. There is a difference. The Board must take into consideration that the people in town are struggling in this economy. The Board has to realize that the rules have changed for spending. There seems to be no doubt that the Board needs emergent money for some roofs. They should have asked for that. They maintained the same attitude you have succinctly stated that they had to pay attention to the desires of the parents. They put forth the fallacy that all the roofs were in an emergent state and that, equally necessary, was a lighted field.That went down in flames. Did the Board retrench? No. The board drops the turf field but still seeks $13.6 million for roofs which cost is to be removed from the budget. We are now down to the finish line and the Board is no longer saying that all the roofs are emergent, they have some in that state but seek to remove all maintenance of all roofs from the budget. This is an evasion of the cap laws done in an evasive manner. A.John Blake
Mitch Slater December 07, 2012 at 06:37 PM
Pete- Impossible to take you seriously after your comments made here during the Hurricane- Let me refresh everyones memory: (See below) I am done responding to your nonsense and suggest others on this board ignore you as well. I don't mind good debate though- so please come to our meeting next week to be properly heard. Pete 10:56 am on Thursday, November 8, 2012 Why? School is not a necessity the way heat is for homes. We all understand people are upset that the state-sponsored free child minding service has been out of action for a few days but suck it up buttercup.
Westfield Parent December 07, 2012 at 06:44 PM
Mr. Friedman, some people express their opinions at the voting booth, not at the BOE meetings. Why don't they show up at BOE meetings? Perhaps they have fears? Why and what do they fear? I admired you when you asked Ms. Mammary if the WHS coaches are rehired because of competence or really because of inertia. So many parents do not dare to complain about the unfair coaches for fear of retribution to their children now and to their younger children in the future. I think the BOE should examine this: Is the Westfield school system really operating in a fair, open, professional and competent fashion? Are all the administrators, counselors, teachers and coaches held accountable? I am afraid that coming next Tuesday night, the answer will be once again "No".
Pete December 07, 2012 at 06:51 PM
Funny. You're going to attack me rather than answer why it was more important for the BoE to squander the budget on nice-to-haves than deal with repairs it knew needed to be made.. Shows where your argument is. And yes, after Sandy, schools reopening was not a necessity except for people who didn't have someone to look after their kids for a few days.
Doogie Howser December 07, 2012 at 07:24 PM
Do you and the others believe that by defeating this bond referendum, that your tax bills will be lower next year? Your school taxes will likely go up by the 2% cap whether this bond passes or not. The debt service on the bond comes out of the budget. What this bond does is allow them to do a capital investment the way most corporations do - by financing it and paying it over the useful life of the item. Roof maintenance should come out of operating budgets. Roof replacements are not maintenance - they are capital improvements - and should be financed and depreciated over the useful life. If the bond is defeated, your tax bill stays the same, but we will have larger classes, fewer teachers, and reduced sports and arts offerings. Why do you hate kids so much?
WestfieldMike December 07, 2012 at 07:37 PM
The BOE has clearly mismanaged this process when they co-mingled the roof and turf field projects. None the less - interest rates are at near historic lows - the states mandates prevent them from 'saving for a rainy day' and encourage the bonding process This needs to be done. While I don't like the 'us versus them' approach by sending home the draconian possibilties if the referendum is not approved (I no longer have a child in the school district) I will vote for this. The BOE really needs to take a hard look at how it comes across to the rest of the town.
Mark Friedman December 07, 2012 at 08:45 PM
FD, If you had really been paying attention, you would know that over the last 12 months, we have replaced furnaces in multiple buildings and that came from the operating budget. The District spent over $2 million dollars on an aging infrastructure, including those furnaces, windows, bathrooms etc. These are all items that needed to be done. I cannot speak for prior Boards and honestly I won;t speak for the members of the current Board. I speak only about my opinion and goals. I will work within the rules that the state has set out for us in order that we can provide a sound education for the students of Westfield as well as an infrastructure that will support us for many years to come. You asked me a question. I do not expect that ALL capital repairs and improvements be paid with bonds and I think that we have demonstrated that fact over the last 12 months. Thanks for your question.
Mark Friedman December 07, 2012 at 08:51 PM
Pete- I hope you see this, was not quiet sure where to reply so that it was close enough to your comment. "Well aware that building maintenance is to be included in the budget"-- i have to disagree with you. It might be semantics to you but building maintenance is in fact in the budget and we spend hundreds of thousands of dollars per year on routine maintenance, that have allowed us to keep buildings that average 75 years old in good working condition. Although you and many others don't care to hear this, the rules of saving money that could be used to replace roofs have changed in the last few years. For the longest time, school boards could not save money for major repairs and it was almost all NJ school districts "strategy" to bond for large expenditures like roof replacements; one of their buildings or many. I was not involved at that time so I can only tell you what I have been told. I was like you before I joined the Board almost two years ago. I thought that I had all of the answers. In fact, I had very few because I had not invested the time to learn about the rules imposed on school boards from the state and other governing bodies. One of these days, I would be happy to sit with you and explain what I have learned and perhaps hear the good ideas that you might have for going forward.
Mark Friedman December 07, 2012 at 08:54 PM
WP- Thanks for your comment, it is appreciated. I understand your point of view for sure but I would hope that if you had strong feelings on an issue, whether it be roofs or something else about the schools, that you would reach out to a Board member or someone in the administration. I understand the hesitancy but part of why I ran for the Board was because I had some of the same feelings that you do. I am trying to make it that more people feel comfortable about speaking up. The Patch isn't the way to do it though, in my opinion. Come to a Board meeting, talk to a Board member; it can be a productive experience.
Oh please December 08, 2012 at 04:29 AM
How about they try the so-called draconian cuts? They have prioritized other spending over maintenance. What did the audit finding say about the maintenance reserve account? Was it even $1,000? That was within the past year! Stop lying to us and make the difficult choices.
Walkin Westfield December 09, 2012 at 09:17 PM
If the children were learning through state of the art technology we wouldn't need school buildings or so many teachers. They could log into Westfield school courses from a portal in their Mine Craft account from anywhere with a high speed internet connection. the BOE gives the residents the run around. If you can't find your answer online and you call the school they tell you to attend a meeting. If you post a comment the BOE disagrees with they say you should have gone to a meeting. if you ask a question at the meeting you are told that the answer is posted online.
Walkin Westfield December 09, 2012 at 09:26 PM
A public agency should not expend public funds to promote a partisan position in an election campaign. A fundamental precept of this nation’s democratic electoral process is that the government may not ‘take sides’ in election contests or bestow an unfair advantage on one of several competing factions. A principal danger lay in the possibility that the holders of governmental authority would use official power improperly to perpetuate themselves, or their allies, in office
CK December 10, 2012 at 12:27 PM
Danielle, from what I understand they do not know. There have been additions in more recent history that they are aware of, but for the most part the roofs are many, many years past their 20 year life expectancy.
CK December 10, 2012 at 12:30 PM
Please do not confuse the teachers union with decisions the board needs to make about the roofs. No roofs, massive cuts at all levels of education. If you are a homeowner you should care. I would not have spent what I did on my home if the schools has elementary classes of 30 kids and no sports programs.
CK December 10, 2012 at 12:31 PM
Reserves are limited by the state to 2%. Half the cost to replace only the high school roof. Please come to the meetings so you know the facts.

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