Passing grade for school referendum

LYNDHURST –

Municipal and school officials really did their homework on this one.

And this time, they earned an A + for their diligence.

They got Lyndhurst voters, by a better than 2-1 margin, to approve a public referendum to spend nearly $20 million to upgrade four elementary schools and the high school.

“It’s been a long time coming,” observed Richard DiLascio, attorney for the township and Board of Education and a longtime advocate for school improvements.

DiLascio, who, during his tenure as mayor, had championed several prior unsuccessful public questions proposing varying plans for upgrades, this time around chaired a Committee for Schools for Our Students that, he said, raised “between $12,000 and $13,000” for promotional materials in support of the current referendum.

DiLascio credited Schools Superintendent Shauna DeMarco and her team with educating the public about the proposed improvements, along with volunteers led by Debbie Peloso, with getting out the vote last Tuesday.

As many as 140 of those volunteers worked the polls on Election Day, reminding residents who came out primarily for the presidential race, not to ignore the public question on schools.

And that strategy clearly paid off.

Official tally sheets show that of Lyndhurst’s 13,210 registered voters, 4,554 voted in favor of the referendum while 2,009 voted against.

“When you throw in absentees, military and provisional ballots,” said DiLascio, “you’re probably looking at totals of close to 5,000 ‘yes’ votes and maybe 2,200 ‘no’ so, on that basis, that’s a 70% turnout.”

Compared against a total of nearly 9,000 votes cast for the presidential election, that accounts for about a 20% dropoff in voter participation between the presidential and the school question, he said.

That performance, he said, was a big improvement over what happened four years ago when the margin of difference in the votes for the Obama/Romney race versus the then-school referendum was closer to 50%.

“So this time we had more people staying to vote on the school question,” DiLascio said.

There can be no doubt, he said, that this time there was a solid commitment by residents to endorse change in the future of the public school system, given that there will be a property tax obligation averaging $96 a year over 35 years to help finance this project in concert with a township-sponsored bond for about $50 million to build a new junior high school that carries an additional tax burden.

In a letter sent this past week to Lyndhurst community members, DeMarco characterized the referendum’s passage as the culmination of 18 months’ labor by “multiple stakeholders – from architects, administrators and engineers to attorneys, BOE members and [township] commissioners – all of whom worked continuously with commitment and dedication throughout the extensive planning process.”

Down the stretch, that effort, she said, included “devoted PTA groups, supportive parents/caregivers and their children, and select individuals connected to the community.”

What the school community can anticipate, as a result of these upgrades, include “family-friendly [school] schedules, neighborhood schools, enhanced and expanded programming, improvements, additions and alterations to every school, applied and vocational training [in the high school] and transportation to the junior high school.”

The high school is to get air-conditioning as part of the project.

This project, in tandem with the new junior high, will help ensure the “vibrant,” long-term future of the Lyndhurst school system and should enhance property values town-wide, she said.

The referendum authorizes bonding for up to $19,873,807 of which the state has deemed $10,734,933 “eligible” for reimbursement as follows: high school, about $4.3 million; Columbus School, about $2 million; Franklin School, about $1 million; Roosevelt School, about $2.5 million; and Washington School, about $675,000. The project includes about $9.1 million in “non-eligible” costs.

Asked at what point work would begin, DiLascio said no timeline has yet been set but added that together with the junior high, “we’re looking at a four-year project” culminating with the opening of the junior high by 2020.

Next step in the process, he said, will be for the township and BOE to designate an architect for each of the two enterprises, then develop plans and specifications, solicit bids and award construction contracts.

 

Ron Leir | Observer Correspondent

Ron Leir has been a newspaperman since the late ’60s, starting his career with The Jersey Journal, having served as a summer reporter during college. He became a full-time scribe in February 1972, working mostly as a general assignment reporter in all areas except sports, including a 3-year stint as an assistant editor for entertainment, features, religion, etc. He retired from the JJ in May 2009 and came to The Observer shortly thereafter. He is also a part-time actor, mostly on stage, having worked most recently with the Kearny-based W.H.A.T. Co. and plays Sunday softball in Central Park, N.Y.