2003 School Referendum: What Was Promised?
● By Rebecca K. Abma
Ten years ago this March, Midland Park voters approved a $12.3 million referendum for upgrades and repairs to the district's facilities. In the aftermath of the failed December 2012 referendum, resident concerns regarding the 2003 referendum were brought to light: What was included in the referendum proposal, what projects have been completed and what was the final cost? Midland Park Press will answer these questions in a multi-part series.
In December 2000, the Midland Park Board of Education put forth a $25 million proposal to renovate, upgrade and build additions at Highland Avenue School, Godwin School and Midland Park Junior-Senior High School. If approved, the state would have funded more than $5 million of the project, and the district would have taken out a bond in the amount of $19,929,990. The voters rejected the proposal.
The Board of Education sent a scaled-down plan to the voters, which passed in a referendum on Dec. 12, 2003. The $12,272,400 plan included $3,399,232 in state grants and $3 million from a "lease purchase agreement" with North Haledon, resulting in $5,873,168 in bonds for the project, to be paid back over 25 years. The estimated tax impact was $17 per month on a home assessed at $300,000.
At the time, the school district was under the direction of long-time Superintendent of Schools August C. DePreker and Business Administrator Louis Roer, both of whom have since retired. Members of the Board of Education included Les Anderson, Theresa DeSimone, Mary Ellen Doster Lorenzo, Ray Moraski, Robert Schiffer, Richard Vandetti, Joan Vandervliet, Anne Polhemus and Russell Kamp. Of those involved with planning the project, only Schiffer remains on the school board.
According to documents obtained by Midland Park Press, the referendum was needed to improve instructional areas, make state-mandated upgrades on the facilities that "have not been structurally upgraded in more than three decades." Here's a closer look at the projects that were promised in the proposal:
At Highland Elementary School, the plans included converting art, music and technology specialty classrooms into two regular education rooms, converting the all-purpose room into a library and media center, converting lower-level space to a music room and computer lab, and converting the balcony overlooking the all-purpose room into three small group instruction rooms. Additional plans included expanding the cafeteria into space used for the Board of Education offices, and building a gymnasium and multi-purpose room, as well as the installation of an elevator to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
Maintenance issues, including $273,000 for ADA compliance, $272,966 for HVAC upgrades, enhancements and/or replacement, including boilers at both Godwin and Highland schools, as well as $68,000 for related controls replacement.
Midland Park Junior Senior High School
At Midland Park Junior-Senior High School, plans included building five new classrooms, three new science labs and converting the science labs into three state-standard-compliant labs, converting the weight room into large group instruction and instrumental music room, renovations for the Board of Education offices, and increased cafeteria spaces. In addition, maintenance projects included $165,000 for boiler and other HVAC issues and $125,000 for electrical distribution projects including the fire alarm, intercom/PA system and classroom upgrades.
Expansion plans at the High School were needed to make room for North Haledon students. In a 2002 referendum, North Haledon residents voted to leave Manchester Regional High School, which they attended with students from Haledon and Prospect Park, to send students to Midland Park High School. As part of the 10-year agreement, North Haledon was to pay $3 million for the construction of additional instruction space in addition to tuition.
North Haledon's students were supposed to begin at MPHS for the 2003-04 school year. However, the New Jersey Supreme Court ruled against the agreement, citing that the exit of North Haledon's predominantly white student population from the regional school district would alter the ethnic and racial balance of the high school.
Since North Haledon was barred from joining the district, its $3 million contribution never materialized, and as a result those funds were cut from the project total. Plans to build more classroom and expand cafeteria space were removed from the project.
Up next: What projects were completed and what was the cost?
Additional reading: The History of School Referendums in Midland Park - 01/28/2013