Raise the Roof! $13.6 Million Bond Referendum Passes 2,700 to 1,503

School board election held to fund roof repairs and replacements.

This story was updated at 2:57 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 12 to include comments made by Westfield Board of Education President Rich Mattessich.

The hotly-debated $13.6 million bond referendum to fund district-wide roof repairs and replacement passed Tuesday, Dec. 11, 2,700 to 1,503, with 19 percent of voters casting their ballots.

Work on Westfield 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, is expected to be completed during the summer of 2013. Work on one other school is also expected to be completed during the same time frame. The remaining buildings will be worked on during the summer of 2014.

In September, residents voted against a $16.9 million bond referendum that would have covered roofs 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 did not include a turf field but accounted for the full cost to replace and repair the roofs of the 12 district-owned buildings in need. 

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.

Wednesday morning, Dolan issued the following statement: “I am grateful for the public’s approval of this bond referendum for new roofs which will ensure the safety of students and staff and maintain the integrity of our infrastructure. Thank you to the Westfield community for your support.”

Reached by email Wednesday afternoon, Westfield Board of Education President Richard Mattessich said, "I am very happy that the bond referendum has been approved. This will allow the District to undertake much needed roof replacements without impacting class size or programs. I appreciate all of the hard work that members of the Board of Education and the Administration have put into this referendum. And I thank all of those in the community who worked so hard to support the referendum. And while our efforts toward the referendum have been successful, we must also keep in mind that our work on this project is just beginning. We will ensure that all bond funds are utilized efficiently and effectively for their intended purpose. And we will have very meaningful, public discussions about the appropriate level of capital funds that must be saved for future year projects as a part of our ongoing budget dialogue. I look forward to those discussions."   

BOE member Mitch Slater voiced his gratitude to voters Tuesday evening.

"This is why I chose to live in Westfield 21 years ago," said Slater. "We have the smartest and (most) caring community that clearly looked at the facts and realized this just made common and fiscal sense . I am so proud of Westfield tonight." 

To view election results, click on the attached PDF document. For more information about the bond referendum, visit the district's website.

WestfieldWatcher December 12, 2012 at 01:08 PM
Disgusting? Hardly. I sat in the same room as you did and that was no attack against free speech. It was an attack against a newspaper that used its standing in a relatively small community to sway voters using anything but the truth. Go back and read the editorial and lets play where's Waldo; Waldo being the lies that the editor wrote in there. They were numerous. The big story is that the editor of that paper should be ashamed of himself. I am all for free speech but have some integrity.
A.John Blake December 12, 2012 at 03:39 PM
Westfield Watcher, Meetings on Channel 36 is open to everyone, the contact list of the BOE is limited. Who signs up for Dr. Dolan's E-mail other than parents? I have no problem with the BOE communicating to everyone. I have a problem with its communication with a limited audience. I have a problem with the BOE sending out letters over the signatures of its principals. That is subterfuge. I do not believe any BOE employee would send out such a communication without at least the permission of the BOE. I think any letter from such an employee should carry the reservation that he/she has an interest in giving the budget a $13 million cushion Are you really going to defend as candid the position of the Board in lumping together the turf field and the roofs? I have no doubt that errors have appeared in the Leader. I also have no doubt that errors were committed by and on behalf of the BOE. Nothing could serve the public more than a detailed statement of facts where the editor was factually in error. Nothing will serve the public more than the Leader continuing to complain about improprieties by public bodies. As long as both sides stick to facts, the public wins. WW,you could help by listing the facts on which the editor was wrong. A.John Blake
Doogie Howser December 12, 2012 at 03:45 PM
I take a different view. The town residents elect a BOE to act in the best interests of the students of WF so that it's children receive a superior education. In doing their job, if they believe that passing a bond referendum is the best way to deliver this, then they not only have a right, but an obligation to advocate for their view. I'm not sure why you think the BOE is supposed to be an impartial body? Their job is to deliver the best education they can. This is what they have done. If the residents with no kids int he schools want a better voice, then one of them should run for the BOE and then they will have a vote on how the schools are run. At the end of the day, our residents (those who voted) decided that a whopping $31 extra for a year or two is a better solution than cutting $4 million per year of operating expense from the budget. Roof replacements are not maintenance, they are capital improvements. Bonding was the correct solution, and I'm thankful that it passed and thankful that the Board and school administrators did what they could to make it happen.
Doogie Howser December 12, 2012 at 03:48 PM
Calling the REPLACEMENT of a roof "maintenance" for one. Patching a section of roof to repair a leak is maintenance. Replacing one that should last (with appropriate maintenance) for 20 years is a capital improvement.
Jeff B December 12, 2012 at 03:54 PM
Westfield Watcher, I found the Leader's basic premise of intimidation and threats to be accurate. To falsely talk about class sizes of 30 is despicable. That was not remotely a possible outcome. Neither were layoffs of 50 - which would have saved roughly $5 million per year in salary and fringe benefit costs - when zero teacher raises would save about $6 million in 3 years (nearly half the bond issue cost). In a democracy this kind of behavior should not be acceptable. Unfortunately, most people are so poorly educated in finance that they fall for this stuff. Westfield residents have, in effect, been suckered into extending a practice of providing little in the budget for roof repair for another 20 years.
A.John Blake December 12, 2012 at 04:22 PM
Doogie, Do you believe that all $13.6 million is to be spent on emergent roof replacement? Don't you think that would be conclusive proof of gross mismanagement by the BOE? I would never accuse them of such inaction. I do believe that some of the money is needed for replacement because of bad choices in the past concerning maintenance. I also believe the Board is taking the opportunity to remove all roof costs, replacement as well as maintenance, out of the budget and giving themselves a $13.6 million cushion outside of the . Whether they should have sought a bond or not is totally different from the manner in which went about seeking the bond. A.John Blake
WestfieldWatcher December 12, 2012 at 04:57 PM
AJB, if we are lucky to have the statement read by the Board President last night included in the Patch, and you want to be objective, which for sure is not assured, you will be able to very easily see, where the editor lied, not where he was wrong. I use the strong term "lied" because as all of these points had been reported in the editors own newspaper time and time again during this process.
Elizabeth Alterman (Editor) December 12, 2012 at 05:02 PM
Friend of Leader and Westfield Watcher, I am hoping to obtain a copy of that statement shortly and will report on it as soon as possible. Thanks, Liz
Robert F. Galgano December 12, 2012 at 05:45 PM
How is 4200 votes apathy? Unless you define "apathy" as "my side didn't win".
Seneca December 12, 2012 at 05:46 PM
I know Dolan was quoted as saying if the bond measure was approved, the tax for a homeowner whose property is assessed at the town average would increase by roughly $31 in the year 2014, and fall in years after because other bonds will be reaching maturity. Does anyone really believe that property taxes are actually going to decrease in subsequent years? Are there any investigative reports that elaborate on what the BOE is doing NOW to ensure that other capital expenditures in the next 5, 10, 20 years are being budgeted for NOW and will continue to be in future years?
Gary McCready December 12, 2012 at 05:48 PM
WestfieldWatcher, Why thank you! Ever since I left the board I've had more time with my family and even lost a few pounds... My comment regarding "negative consequences" was more a reference to the need to point out the consequences of not passing the bond. It is too bad that just communicating the positive benefits of replacing roofs would not be enough in the BoE's opinion to pass it, and they had to pre-determine the consequences of not passing. I do think BoE communication is improving, but there still needs to be a better way to handle this "social media" aspect of responding to comments, as the BoE needs an objective voice to simply state the facts as needed. Any BoE member who responds becomes the defacto voice of the Board, which may not be the official position of the Board. And if you have read the posts, they are still being criticized for the BoE's communications. Keep in mind, the recipient always defines the meaning of the communication.
Gary McCready December 12, 2012 at 05:53 PM
BOE Watcher Yeah, there is a bit I could say about the prior project management, but won't or can't. Going forward, as there is functionally a new project management team in place, (both day to day and oversight), I feel the BoE should apply some extra oversight to this project until they feel very comfortable that it is proceeding within expectations. Other comments aside, you can search the NJ.com and other archives for plenty of school projects that were not able to complete within budget and left things half-done, wasting a lot of money. Again, hoping that will not happen here.
Walkin Westfield December 12, 2012 at 06:03 PM
You had to be the one to post the last negative comment. Do us all a favor next time and save it.
Jeff B December 12, 2012 at 06:45 PM
Gary McReady, reporting possible consequences of a "no" vote is responsible - if complete and accurate. But reporting false consequences - as in class sizes going to 30 and layoffs of 50, failing to include any reference whatever that a no vote would (certainly) affect the ability to pay raises to employees within the 2% cap and selective electioneering apparently at school district expense is, in my opinion, reprehensible and dishonest. While the Leader's editorial might note have got all the facts right, I think the tone of their editorial was both correct and deserved.
Dillon December 12, 2012 at 06:51 PM
I define apathy as less than 20% of registered voters voted
The Duke December 12, 2012 at 07:55 PM
Fooshy, I agree that it is deplorable that so few voted. But not voting is a vote for indifference to the outcome. That indifference is part of what one might consider "Westfield".
WestfieldWatcher December 12, 2012 at 08:32 PM
anyone following along without an agenda, would have known that a NO vote would have called into question the possibility of giving teachers raises. Anyone with a brain knows that you don't come out and say something like that in what we will be a collectively bargained contract. But Jeff, keep sticking to your pitiful message. "While the Leader's editorial might note have got all the facts right" is the under statement of the day. The only folks who believe that was "correct and deserved" are those that have the same disregard of the truth as the editor. And furthermore, if you go back to the facts (I know you don;t like the facts), the comments about 50 people being laid off was in response to the question of what it would take to save $ 4 million. Apparently they looked at what they cut the last time they needed a $4 million savings (state aid being cut) and that was the head-count that was reduced. You see, if you follow along at home, all of the information that you so deeply crave is all there for you.
WestfieldWatcher December 12, 2012 at 08:34 PM
Seneca, I don't believe that anyone said that your property taxes will go down and that certainly should not be your expectation. The Dolan quote said that there would be older bonds falling off in future years which would negate some of the increase from this new bond. In fact, when you assume that taxes can go up by the state mandated maximum of 2% per year, rest assured that your taxes are not going down.
Pete December 12, 2012 at 08:38 PM
Sure. The report is: the BoE is doing nothing NOW to ensure things are going to be budgeted because Westfield has shown, once again, that the BoE can get away with doing precisely nothing to budget and plan ahead.
Walkin Westfield December 12, 2012 at 08:55 PM
Considering the teachers recieved a 3.9% annual raise during a recession, I think the teachers and administrators will be looking for a big pay day. It's all a game to see how much more money can be conned out of the residents, and we thought the BOE represents us.
Jeff B December 12, 2012 at 09:28 PM
WestfieldWatcher, in my opinion, mentioning class sizes of 30 and cutting 50 positions - which are far from what would have actually happened - was intended to scare people into voting "yes". Similarly, for NOT mentioning the potential impact on raises - which, if mentioned, might have increased the "no" vote. As I have pointed out before, zero raises (versus 1.5% or so) is worth perhaps $6 million savings over three years - nearly half the roof bond, and probably a lot more than half of the cost for roofs in desperate shape. You do not think that was a material omission from the Board's "consequences" remarks for consideration by the public? Anyone, who does not think the Board says precisely and only what will attract the most votes without much concern for a balanced and accurate perspective is, in my opinion, naive. This, unfortunately, is typical of all politicians or entities that require votes from the public. I appear to be in a minority with the Leader who thinks that is reprehensible. Incidentally, I would have strongly supported a bond of roughly half the size combined with 2% cap money to get the roofs done over three years and made that view known to a Board member right after the last vote. However, I could not support "business as usual" both in the funding requested and tactics used to enhance chances of passage.
South Westfielder December 12, 2012 at 10:33 PM
What makes people think that the "yes" vote means that the next teacher contract negotiations are going to provide for increases above 0%? Even with the yes vote, one can be sure that the next contract negotiation will be difficult, contentious and very hard on teachers and the Board members.
South Westfielder December 12, 2012 at 10:35 PM
Then give Dr. Dolan your email address.
A.John Blake December 12, 2012 at 11:52 PM
South Westfielder, I believe the past is a good indicator of future action. Do you remember the haste with which a Westfield Board signed the last contract months before it was due? When have you ever experienced any comment from any Westfield Board that it was in favor of refusing the wishes of the union? After the fact, when agreement has been reached, and after the public is informed, the union's mantra " It's for the children" is then repeated ad nauseam. I'm sure the union will point out that the bond has freed up a few million which can now be used to aid the teachers through " these hard economic times". The Board has totally lost any ability to tell the union that the public will not support further expenses. It cannot argue that the voters will not rubber stamp the Board's actions. What makes you think that the Board will change its historical attitude toward the union? A.John Blake
Jeff B December 13, 2012 at 12:37 AM
A. John Blake, I believe that the budget won't get a vote any more if it is within the 2% cap, so there no longer has to be even a pretense of accountability to the public by the Board. The union will expect the 2% cap to be fully used up.
Luke December 13, 2012 at 01:17 AM
Ok so now that this approved what is the maintenance plan so we don't get in this situation again? Will there be better planning on capital upgrades or will there need to get bond after bond and stop having to have ridiculous elections where public funds are used that could go to the BOE.
Gary McCready December 13, 2012 at 01:41 AM
Well, from last night's meeting, as summarized at http://www.westfieldnjk12.org/education/components/scrapbook/default.php?sectiondetailid=5270 The auditors reported that the BoE "have placed $2.2 million in maintenance reserve" which I assume will be used for maintenance items in the future.... Don't know if that was just from one year, or multiple years worth.
Jeff B December 13, 2012 at 02:09 AM
Anyone want to guess whether with this $2.2 million, annual increments to this reserve and the $13.6 million we might one day have "spare funds" for a lighted turf field not requiring a bond - especially if the roof work comes in "under budget"?
WestfieldWatcher December 13, 2012 at 03:45 AM
Jeff, you are obviously free to say what you like, but you really should take your family and go live some place where you won't have so much stress. Either that, or grab some prunes for breakfast tomorrow.
Doogie Howser December 13, 2012 at 04:21 PM
20-yrs from now when the roofs again need a full replacement, I would expect this to be bonded again. Capital improvements are not supposed to be paid for and expensed in a single year's operating budget. Why should today's taxpayer have to fund 100% of something that benefits the community for 20 years?


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