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$16.9 Million Bond Referendum Defeated 3,874 to 1,508

Twenty-five percent of residents came out for the vote.

Updated: 12:08 a.m. Westfield voters have spoken and in a surprisingly large turnout for a school board election the $16.9 million bond referendum was defeated 3,874 votes to 1,508. 

The Westfield Board of Education proposed the single bond referendum in order to fund two multi-million dollar capital projects—district-wide roof repairs and a lighted turf field. 

The proposal drew the ire of some Westfield residents who viewed the repairs as a necessity and deemed the field a luxury. 

Edgar Road resident Scott Robb opposed the synthetic turf field not only because of the traffic, noise and lights he believed would accompany it, but also because he did not agree with the bundling of the two projects.

"Obviously, we, along with all the neighbors surrounding the high school field, are very happy with the results," Robb wrote in an email to Patch Monday evening. "The taxpayers have spoken and have clearly said that it is not the time to issue more debt for these multi-million dollar projects, that we do not appreciate that our freedom of choice was taken away when they decided to bundle both projects, and that a lit turf field does not belong in an over-burdened residential neighborhood. We are hopeful that the BoE has heard us, and in the future, will work with us to come up with a solution that is fair to all."

Margaret Dolan, superintendent of schools, waited with Board members Mitch Slater, Gretchan Ohlig, Rich Mattessich, Jane Clancy, Rosanne Kurstedt and Ginny Leiz at the Municipal Building as the votes were tallied. 

In a prepared statement released following the count, Dolan said, "Thank you to all who took the time to vote today. The elected members of the Westfield Board of Education have always taken their responsibilities to the students and the residents of Westfield to heart. The current Board of Education continues this tradition. Our 6,300 students benefit from the decisions that are made on their behalf. The Facilities Committee of the Board of Education will meet to readdress the needs of our buildings and fields."

When asked when or if a separate bond referendum could be voted on to pay for only the roofs, Dolan said the earliest would be "in December if the Board chooses to do that." 

When asked if the Board would continue to pursue a turf field, BOE president Mattessich said it was too soon to say. 

"We don't know. We just got the results. They obviously will weigh heavily on anything we talk about. Facilities will take this away. We'll look at our needs. We still need the roofs. We still have buildings and grounds issues to look at. We'll find a way to take care of everything over time. We'll make a recommendation to the Board in a public meeting and go from there," he said.

Mattessich added that the Facilities Committee will meet within a week's time but both he and Dolan agreed it was too soon to tell when a recommendation could be made on the next course of action.

When asked if Mattessich thought marrying the two projects is what caused the bond's defeat, he said, "We certainly heard more comments on the turf field than anything on the roofs. We'll have to look at what we put back on a referendum, when we do it and what it encompasses.

"What we'll do at the end of the year when we get our final audit results, we'll know how much surplus the Board of Ed has from the prior school year, and we'll allocate that. We have a five-year facilites plan that regardless of the roofs or the field can absorb that funding. There's a lot to do. It's all part of the same balancing act. It's the primary reason we went outside the normal course to try to fund the roofs and the field."

Slater, who with BOE members Ohlig and Mark Friedman, voted to separate the roofs from the field, said he wanted to respond but was asked by the Board to not speak.

Westfield schools supervisor of athletics Sandy Mamary was also at the Municipal Building to hear the outcome of the special election that saw 25 percent of residents turn out to vote. Deflated but gracious, Mamary, a champion of the proposed field, thanked those who voted for voicing their opinions.

In the meantime, residents of the neighborhood that surrounds Westfield High School were celebrating.

Jonah Gensler, whose backyard abuts WHS's natural grass field said, "Tonight, a patchwork of neighbors wielding $2 signs and hand-cut fliers triumphed over a professional team selling us on stadium lights, plastic turf and a 20-year mortgage. An overwhelming majority of Westfielders rejected the bundling of a necessity with a luxury by voting No on this bond."

Gensler added that he felt the maintenance and repair costs for the lit turf field were never fully articulated.

"Those costs would indeed compete with having enough teachers for our kids and making sure their classrooms have all the resources for optimal learning," he said. "I took my children, 1, 3 and 5, along with me as we chatted with neighbors and talked to commuters at the train station about the future we want for Westfield: a future with natural green fields and a fair say in how our tax dollars are spent. They learned some important lessons in democracy: that you should fight for what you believe in while engaging respectfully with all those in your community - and that you can make a difference. Thank you, neighbors, for not letting my kids down."

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Did you vote today? If so, are you happy with the outcome?

Westfield123 September 26, 2012 at 12:13 PM
13 million for new roofs so we can put up solar panels. Show me the ROCE and when the project pays for itself. Thanks.
Westfield123 September 26, 2012 at 12:17 PM
August West - If you cannot provide an educated response please keep your nasty comments to yourself.
Jeff B September 26, 2012 at 12:52 PM
A Kimmchin, you just made the case for mismanagement by the Board of Ed. If we were told 3 years ago of the need to replace roofs, where was the provision to replace them out of the operating budget in the last three years. Instead we got three years of 3.9% teacher raises given a week before Christie was known to be delivering his state aid (cut) message and months before the teachers' contract expired. Other towns - like Scotch Plains - have managed to replace roofs and HVAC out of the budget (with lower salary increases). Raises of 2% instead of 4% in 2010, would have given 6% more of the salary budget in the third year of the contract for roofs or other things. That could have been over $3M per year to spare and no bond would have been needed. As to your other implied point, this was a vote against this particular bond issue. I have seen relatively little opposition to a roof-only bond issue. It was the Board that insisted on a packaged vote despite opposition from residents and even 3 Board members. The waste of as much as $50,000 to do this over again in December or later - why not in November? - was totally unnecessary had the votes been separated. I also second the remarks of "Cracker Jack". My recollection is that HS enrollment was higher decades ago. Kids were hardly couch potatoes back then, with no modern electronic devices.
The Duke September 26, 2012 at 02:22 PM
Doogie, dare I say that you sound a little out of touch? Have you been in the BOE coccoon for too long? I see not only Westfielders but many if not most New Jerseyans that still have jobs working longer hours, many for less pay, almost all of them with retirement accounts that have taken a 40% hit, some that have had to dip into their retirement funds to survive. And they accept all this because having a job is better than not having one. Some are making a fraction of what they used to make but are hanging in because they love the town, hoping that things eventually turn for the better. Some were not as lucky, experienced an extended unemployment and moved out. Our teachers are among the finest in all of NJ, and I would deny them little, but what good are high-paid teachers and top flight facilities if residents can't afford to pay for them? At some point fiscal responsibility has to be considered, and with Taxmageddon looming in 2013, should we take on this debt now, or should we wait until we know whether there will be enough people who can still afford these improvements? Interest rates will be low at least through 2014, so no need to rush a bundled proposal through the system. I think the Board is wise to suggest revisiting this in December, after the fury and distraction of the general election is behind us and we have greater clarity on the direction the country as a whole will be taking.
Gary McCready September 26, 2012 at 03:58 PM
Jane Doe, You make several very good points, especially regarding the ongoing teacher raises; I would think that there would be higher chances for bond success past this current very polarized election season and once the next teacher's contract is settled with much lower raises. Personally, being out of the loop I was surprised that there was a turf field being considered, but figured the BoE had a better read on the pulse of the community and more support from all those parents of athletes who would vote in favor. I don't think anyone here (aside from the Patch pollster) was expecting the 2+ to 1 against outcome. Having been outside/inside/outside the BoE IMHO there is always the desire and debate regarding the release of more/better organized information. Truth be told, the backing data/information is typically ignored by those in favor of something the BoE does, and those against it pick out the data to their advantage for their arguments. Unfortunately, it is hard to see if people are objectively looking at the situation and then making up their minds. I have always argued for more data to be released throughout, and would love a NJ law be passed to force districts to publish data that can provide better comparisons between districts. What the BoE should really do is capture all the above comments, and use it as discussion points in one of their periodic retreats/planning session - there is a lot worth considering.
Jeff B September 26, 2012 at 09:25 PM
Gary, a defeat for one's position is always the opportunity to learn something. It remains to be seen whether the BOE will or not. In my opinion, the Westfield teachers' compensation package and especially that for new people out of college - when you take into account salary, raises, health benefits for which relatively little is paid, a defined benefit pension plan which the private sector has largely eliminated, and job security - puts these folks in the top 1% of the "99%" in today's economy. Several cities in CA are now learning this and going bankrupt because they can no longer afford public employee compensation packages. I think "Jane Doe" made that poignantly clear from the taxpayer's point of view. Retirees on fixed income are in even worse shape, given depreciation of home values and near zero interest rates on savings. I fear that until both parties at the bargaining table realize this, nothing will change. Resources for roofs or anything else in the operating budget will be restrained by the 2% cap and incessant union demands for out-sized salary increases met by Boards of Ed with little backbone. Unfortunately, I do not believe that this is good "for the children" at all.
Sal E September 26, 2012 at 09:57 PM
I was not a proponent of this bond issue and had difficulty with its timing and bundling a new field and lights with roofs for our schools. I must say however, that while I sympathize with residents of the neighborhood, I am always a bit taken back when they object to the use of the athletic fields which existed long before any of them were residents of this town. Am I wrong to say perhaps you shouldn’t have bought a home adjacent to a sports field if you didn’t want to have our young athletes use them to play sports? It is actually a little funny when you think about that argument. Truth be told, it would make much more sense to put lights on the existing turf field utilizing private donations which could undoubtedly be secured. No cost to the taxpayer and all facilities are currently in place. This could and should be done.
Frank September 26, 2012 at 10:31 PM
A lit field doesn't belong in a residential area, including Kehler Field. The neighborhood, for decades before the turf 10 yrs ago, had been used to host four home football games and some track meets. The current situation is intolerable on many levels, and lights would bring another several hours daily to the area. This is a community where people should be thinking about their neighbors, their co-workers, their friends, and their community- if you can say you would want the lights on your street, go to a lit game in a different town- watch the action, listen to the noise from the announcers, the horns, the volume of the music, and see how long it takes for the area to clear from the buses, cars, and people. I bet you would change your mind. Lights should NOT be used anywhere near so many residents.
Jeff B September 26, 2012 at 10:39 PM
Sal E, three comments. At least one neighborhood poster pointed out that their family home was purchased long before there was a high school there. There was already a fight in the 1990's against lights at Kehler and nothing was done then. That makes the current proposal including lights seem a little odd to me. I also have an ethical issue with imposing anything on a residential neighborhood that is likely to negatively affect their lives and property values for anything less than an essential public purpose - which resurfacing a field and adding 80 foot lights is arguably not.
Sal E September 27, 2012 at 12:37 AM
Jeff, I respect that opinion and I was never in favor of putting a lighted field near the high school. I doubt that many of the families surrounding Kehler Stadium were there in the 1920's and as such feel somehow entitled to some say in the matter. They bought their homes next to a stadium, what did they think would happen? Forgive me but it belongs to the community, not to the residents of the surrounding streets and if this were a different town there would have been lights placed there 40 years ago.
Sal E September 27, 2012 at 12:45 AM
Frank, I can agree with everything you are saying except that no one forced anyone to purchase a home near existing schools and atheltic complexes. This one street has a lot of action on it to be sure but if you could enlighten me on why you would make a decision to move into an area with obvious year round activities and then not expect traffic, kids, games and noise I would like to hear it. I didn't buy one of those homes maybe for all the reasons you indicate but if I did I wouldn't expect anything less or feel like the community owed it to me to curtail these activities so I could enjoy peace and quiet. When you buy a home next to a stadium, what do you expect?
Frank September 27, 2012 at 01:28 AM
For Sal E, When you buy a home near a school, of course you expect extra activity. When you buy a home near the train tracks, you expect the train noise. When you buy a home near a grassy football field in the 1970's, which wouldn't be considered a stadium, and the realtor says there are 4 home FB games and some track events, you make your decision. Nowhere does that imply that 80 foot lights or astroturf will be in place. Other than Dave Brown, who played on grass, is there any other pro football player from Westfield? For that matter, how many of today's pros had a home turf field? It's a residential town with a field in a residential area. No citizen should have any less of a right to SOME peace and quiet than any other.
Sal E September 27, 2012 at 01:48 AM
Frank, if there were lights, there would still only be 4 home games. The difference now is that many more sports exist that didn't back in the 70's and are played competitively at the HS level. No town can be frozen in time so as not to recognize this progression and make accomodations so these young atheletes have facilities to play on. It makes more sense to me ehance those facilities which exist, then to establish new ones. The most logical one I have seen called for a new stadium to be built on land currently used by the Conservation Center but, of course, residents of Lambert's Mill Road had issue with that. So if we can't enhance our current facilities and we can't build new ones we are left to do what, exactly, nothing? I
Frank September 27, 2012 at 02:01 AM
Kehler Field already is enhanced. It is used from 7am-7pm all the time, from gym classes at Edison (don't they have a field?), games, meets, practices, P.A.L., you name it- in addition, since there is no sign that says no trespassing after dark nor a lock, there are kids on the weekends- just ask the local police. The progression is already there. Lights are not a 'necessary addition' in a residential area for anyone.
J.Brendan Galligan September 27, 2012 at 02:17 AM
Gary, I am a firm believer that the whole picture is required before an opinion should be rendered and I am definitely a numbers kind of guy. I think that in addition to bundling, the lack of complete information started to undermine the credibility of the proposal. Something as simple as including the projected maintenance costs over the life of the bond, and the estimated power consumption for the lights would have helped many people on the fence. Would it have changed the outcome significantly, no but as a future member of the Board of Ed (on the Nov. ballot and running unopposed) I have been following the comments closely. I have even copied down many that presented new view points or requested additional information. I originally did this for myself, so I could become a better representative, but you made a great suggestion to share them with the others and sort of use them as a team building exercise.
JERSEY GIRL September 27, 2012 at 11:59 AM
What Sal E doesnt get, is that when you buy a home next to a school, the hours of operation are normally, 8am to 4pm during the school year, maybe a random Saturday or two, but there is no traffic for the most part on weekends/summer months. A lit field would be non stop noise, cars, litter, you cannot compare the two. How about a lit field at Franklin? How would those residents respond? The same I bet. Why turn a nice neighborhood into a stadium because a handful of "helicopter parents" desire this? I would rather the money go back into the schools. Dont most schools have to share a Gym/Art teacher/Librarian? What about the special education teachers? Dont they split their time between schools also? I am glad the good people of the town came out and voted NO. This town has become a commuter town, many residents dont care about decisions that will effect the town long term. Their jobs will have transferred them to a new city in approx 10 years. Unlike those residents, my family has been in the area for over 60 years, I have seen and heard about all the changes, the mcMansions, the renovations at the pool, which have turned it into a mini Long Island water park,( check out the Metuchen pool remember when our pool looked like that not so long ago? ) I know I am on a rant, but I see no benefit for a lit field in a residental area and am glad of the outcome of the vote.
The Duke September 27, 2012 at 01:45 PM
J.Brendan, thanks for stepping up and good luck.
South Westfielder September 27, 2012 at 05:41 PM
Butch Woolfolk - played on grass here in Westfield.
Sal E September 27, 2012 at 07:51 PM
Jersey, I don't dispute that money can be put to better use and I did not support this bond issue, just to be clear. I feel if there is going to be a lighted field on Rahway Ave it should be Kehler and that money should come from private fund raising not public revenues. Change in a community is hard for long time residents, but in Westfield the new families I see are decent, hard working family people. We may not all agree on the best way to move forward on all issues but I think there is a healthy level of respect for the town and it's traditions. I think if there wasn't there is enough money and political clout here to foster changes on a much grander scale than what you have sited, over and above any objections that might be brought to the table.
Gary McCready September 28, 2012 at 04:05 PM
Jeff B, I agree with some parts of your sentiment, but under the current hiring environment, it is not simple to just pay teachers less in our district alone; we would quickly see the best new hires going to other districts that paid more. What really needs to happen is that teachers get paid "market rates" for their skills, which would mean that those, especially in STEM fields, would get paid more than they do now, and others were the supply/demand ratio is not in their favor, would get paid less. This I know would be hard for unions to swallow (and BoE's to plan for), but almost everything can be negotiated. Another thing to keep in mind is that you can't simply find good teachers off the street - they need to be both properly trained, and their skills need to be maintained, thus a district has an investment in retaining them. It really does boil down to how do we value our teachers to keep the best employed. Many studies show that the effectiveness of teaching during one year has an impact on how a student performs in following years.
August West September 29, 2012 at 02:49 AM
Westfield123: You confirmed that you are ignorant & cranky with that response.
August West September 29, 2012 at 03:00 AM
Walter- well stated. Westfield123- You see- no green Obama agenda.
South Westfielder September 29, 2012 at 12:26 PM
@ Jersey Girl, I have been a Westfielder for more years than most people and I have to tell you that Westfield has ALWAYS been a commuter town, where the length of time families live here before moving is relatively short. They move in and a few years later, they move out.
Jeff B September 29, 2012 at 04:33 PM
@SouthWestfielder, when your perspective runs to 50-100 years in Westfield, I think you will find many families years ago staying here until major changes in life circumstances, such as retirement or death. In my immediate neighborhood, the majority of families are or were in Westfield roughly 50 years or more.
South Westfielder September 29, 2012 at 08:34 PM
Jeff B, I AM one of those families who have been here for 50 years. While you are able to find people who have lived here this long or longer MOST are not here anywhere near this. Check with any realtor, they'll tell you what the average is.
Jeff B September 29, 2012 at 09:42 PM
@SouthWestfielder, I stand by what I said - "... many families years ago staying here until major changes in life circumstances, such as retirement or death." In other words, families who came here many decades ago were much less likely to be transient than today. Your point about realtor data just confirms that the character of the town has indeed changed, that families replacing the long-timers are much more transient - reducing the average as the years go by (assuming my own experience is representative). In fact, my observation would be consistent with societal changes - where an individual spending an entire career with one company (in one location) would be unheard of today, but common in the past.
Bruce Binkowitz September 29, 2012 at 09:54 PM
never have i seen so many comments on a patch article. excellent! completely agree with NR9. in addition i find it disturbing that BOE members were censored. "Slater, who with BOE members Ohlig and Mark Friedman, voted to separate the roofs from the field, said he wanted to respond but was asked by the Board to not speak." i hope the BOE has learned to stop playing games. Not only was the bundling clearly a political bullying tactic in a town that prides itself on a no bullying policy but the reasoning given "other towns do it" was insulting. Iexpectthe BOE to look out for the best interests of the students in the future, as opposed to this poorly planned political tactic.
South Westfielder September 29, 2012 at 11:11 PM
Jeff B, stand by whatever. The dact remains that overall, this is a transient town, where most families move through, stay for a few years, and leave.
NeedToComment September 30, 2012 at 12:10 AM
Turf vs.
Gary McCready September 30, 2012 at 04:34 AM
Those who sit on any board that has a public facing role are often asked to remain silent at times, as what they say may be seen as the position of the entire board, when it is really just one person's opinion. Ethically, it may be better to allow the position of the board to be "offiical" before a board member comments on decisions or events.

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