Cedar Grove Board of Education Makes Case for School Repairs
Voters to decide on $7.6 million bond referendum Jan. 25.
The Cedar Grove Board of Education continued its information campaign this week, ahead of a special election where voters will consider the district's $7.6 million bond referendum proposal on Tuesday, Jan. 25.
Among the proposed improvements are a host of energy efficient and temperature control improvements to the district's aging schools, including replacing roofs, windows, doors, ceilings and light fixtures, as well as heating and cooling systems.
The total cost of the improvements, which would encompass Cedar Grove High School, North and South End Elementary School, and the Leonard R. Parks School building, would not exceed $12,180,380, and would mean a school tax increase of $114 on a home assessed at the township's average of $485,000. Officials have said that number should drop to roughly $85 once the savings on the energy efficient improvements are realized.
In advance of the election, district officials are engaged in a media campaign to demonstrate the need for the repairs, a tough sell in a district that saw five of its last eight budgets defeated.
"There are safety issues right now that if we don't address, could become serious issues," Board of Education President Frank Mandala said in an interview.
"This referendum is to take care of the nuts and bolts of our school system. Not the bells and whistles."
The awareness campaign currently underway is slated to resume over the next few weeks with community forums, school building tours, and special presentations by board members.
"We thought it was important to disseminate and answer questions the community may have in a timely manner."
To that end, the board distributed those in attendance with a list of Frequently Asked Questions on the referendum, with detailed answers provided.
District officials say now is the time to make the repairs.
This summer, the district secured a state grant which would cover 40 percent of the project's total cost, or $4,597,995, reducing Cedar Grove's local share to $7,582,385. School officials said the large state grant at a time when Trenton is tightening its purse strings, coupled with low interest rates and construction costs, makes now the ideal time to make the proposed improvements.
At the Jan. 4 meeting, David Schoener, a Cedar Grove resident with three children at South End Elementary School, presented a documentary-style film he created to the board and a few dozen residents in attendance, which illustrated the condition of the school buildings.
In the film, the roof of Cedar Grove High School was shown covered with moss and weeds that have taken root in one of the roof's many fissures, and the roof's protective membrane was shown to spurt water like a geyser when stepped on. Audience members could be overheard muttering "disgusting" during certain moments.
After the film, the audience applauded loudly, and the board seemed to echo their sentiment.
Board member Michael Grabas, who himself went through the Cedar Grove School District decades ago, has a unique perspective on the condition of the schools.
"I grew up in this school system. I can tell you first hand, it's no different. It's time for a change," he said.
Michael Fetherman, principal of Cedar Grove High School, rattled off a laundry list of problems caused by the condition of the building.
"Look, no one wants to pay higher property taxes, but our buildings, particularly the high school, have been neglected far too long," he said in an interview Jan. 5, noting a ceiling tile had fallen onto an unoccupied desk that very day.
"Remember when we had that driving wind and rain storm a few weeks back? The 'bridge' (hallway that connects B-wing to E-wing) was covered in water. We had to move computers away from windows and place towels along the sills to keep back the water. Several classrooms had water running down from the windows onto the floor. Just unacceptable."
Fetherman also pointed to the challenge of controlling the temperature in a building with 5o-year-old, single-hung windows.
"And as for climate control, you can forget it. What a waste of energy. Makes my environmental conscience queasy."
During the public comment portion, a handful of residents spoke up in favor of passing the proposal.
Donna Gerard, a resident who said she has children in kindergarten, elementary school and middle school, said the district's history of defeated budgets should not affect this referendum vote.
"We need to set aside our differences and complaints and do the right thing. We should show we care," she said.
Resident Colleen Delora said her daughter had horror stories stemming from the conditions of the buildings, including ceiling tiles falling on a classmate's head, and chairs in classrooms at the high school covered in snow from the roof.
Other parents spoke of weather conditions inside school buildings ranging from stiflingly hot in the summer to frigid in the winter as a result of the antiquated heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems and energy inefficient windows and doors.
One resident, Christine Palma, took residents to task for voting down the budget in previous years.
"You get what you pay for. Over the years, the community hasn't been willing to pay. If we passed budgets, we would have more money for the things we want our children to have."
The board will hold several meetings between now and the Jan. 25 election in an attempt to reach parents of students of any age as well as residents without children currently in the district.
Jan. 6 - 7 p.m. - Memorial Middle School Media Center, 500 Ridge Road.
Jan. 8 - 10 a.m. - Mandala will speak to parents of incoming Kindergarteners at North End Elementary, 122 Stevens Ave. At the same time, school board member Pamela Burke will speak to parents at South End Elementary, 116 Harper Terr.
Jan. 10 - 7:30 p.m. - Cedar Grove High School auditorium, 90 Rugby Road.
Jan. 11 - 7 p.m. in the media center at North End before the 8 p.m. board meeting.
Jan. 13 - 7 p.m. at South End Elementary.
Jan. 17 - 11 a.m. at the Cedar Grove High School Auditorium (for residents without children in the district)
Jan. 20 - 7 p.m. in the Cedar Grove High School cafeteria, an open forum will be held between parents and board members.
Snow days for the meetings if needed will be on Jan. 18 and Jan. 24 at 7 p.m., at a yet-to-be-determined location.