Westfield Board of Education Decides to Put New Bond Referendum Before Voters, Discusses Test Results at Meeting
Tuesday, October 23, 2012 • 1:21pm
WESTFIELD, NJ—After last month’s defeat of a bond referendum, the Westfield Board of Education is going back to voters with another on December 11 that could provide $13.6 million to replace roofs on every district-owned building.
At the October 22 meeting, the board voted unanimously for the new referendum, following a report on the poor conditions of the roofs and the potential impact on programs and staffing if the district has to pay for the repairs from the operating budget or capital reserves.
“It’s in the best interests of the district to move forward,” Board President Richard Mattessich said in explaining the board’s reasoning. “The time is now to undertake a project of this significance.”
The original bond referendum would have raised $16.9 million for roof repair and the construction of an artificial turf field at the high school. This time around, the board has taken out the turf field and is focusing on the roofs at 10 schools, the Kehler Field House and the Board of Education offices.
“The bond will allow us to complete as many roofs as possible in summer 2013,” said Business Administrator Dana Sullivan. “We have determined the high school is our priority.”
In her portion of the report, Sullivan estimated the cost impact to the average homeowner, who has a house assessed at the town average of $182,000. For bonds that would be paid back over 20 years, the new bond would cost the average homeowner $31 in 2014, $5 in 2015, and $3 in 2016. After that, the cost to the taxpayer would be non-existent.
The previous bond cost would have been $45 in the first year for the average homeowner.
Sullivan said that if the bond referendum is approved, the district will push to complete the roofs at the high school and as many others as possible for summer 2013 and all other roofs will be completed in summer 2014.
“We’re hoping to get out to bid in March or April,” she added.
District Superintendent Margaret Dolan said that in previous budget reductions, the district had to postpone facility improvements and the purchase of new technology and institute a student activity fee. In addition, the board had to cut 30 positions, including teachers, secretaries, supervisors and coordinators, custodians, librarians and counselors, as well as stipends for afterschool programs and salary for substitute teachers.
She warned that if the December referendum fails and the district needs to come up with $4 million, administrators might have to postpone other facility improvements in the current five-year plan as well as technology programs. Curriculum offerings would have to be re-examined and 50 positions eliminated.
In addition, there might be fewer athletic programs and fine arts classes and programs. Class size at the elementary level might increase above the current average of 25, and at the intermediate level there might be fewer electives and class size might increase above the current average of 25.
Dolan also projected a higher minimum enrollment for all high school classes and an increase in average class size up to 30. There also might be a decrease in counseling staff, librarians and technology staff.
In comments before the vote on the referendum, board members expressed their support.
Ann Cary said she originally wanted to wait until spring to present voters with another referendum, but she had come to believe the community should know how important it is to fund the new roofs and maintain the integrity of class size and programs.
Mitchell Slater said as chairman of the technology committee, “I don’t want to see us go backwards. I think the time is right. We need to pass this, folks.”
Jane Clancy said a great deal of work had gone into analyzing the situation, and Ginny Leiz said the board had looked at many different scenarios.
“We talked about going out for less, but the roofs need to be fixed now,” said Roseanne Kurstedt. “We need to be bold and take the next step.”
“We’re not forward-looking and stewards of our educational system if we don’t ask for the full amount,” said Gretchan Ohlig.
In response to questioning from a resident on warranties for the roofs, Mattessich addressed the issue of providing for future needs.
“How do we not get here again?” he asked rhetorically. He indicated the board plans to put money aside each year and already has started to maintain higher levels of reserve.
In other business, Assistant Superintendent Paul Pineiro reported on test results for all grades in 2012. That testing is state mandated.
He showed charts over a five-year period in various subject areas comparing Westfield students’ performance to others in the state and others in its District Factor Group, which includes districts with similar community characteristics.
“With few exceptions, the Westfield Public School District consistently performs at or above its District Factor Group peers,” he concluded. Regarding the skills being tested, at the district level, there were no areas that fall below the District Factor Group mean, he said.
In individual schools, however, the data shows two skill areas below the DFG mean, writing and number and numerical operation. Five elementary schools lagged in writing and two elementary schools lagged in number and numerical operations.
Pineiro said administrators and teachers will devise individualized student improvement plans for students lagging in those skills.
In looking at SAT scores, Pineiro noted that Westfield students had strong scores relative to their peers in other similar districts.
“Westfield High performs in the Top 20 in SAT for the entire state,” he said.
Also at the session, Dolan gave a report on violence, vandalism, and substance abuse and harassment, intimidation and bullying in the schools during the first six months of 2012.
She reminded listeners that every school has an anti-bullying specialist and further information can be found on the district’s Website under the “Parent” tab.
Several board members asked Dolan to provide further information at a future meeting.