BOE pitching $66M referendum

NUTLEY –

If Nutley property owners want to support a plan to relieve overcrowding in the township’s public schools, they’ll have to open their wallets.

Board of Education officials last Tuesday night, Jan. 17, unveiled a construction plan for additions and alterations to four schools projected to cost $68.9 million.

Offset a bit by an estimated state debt service aid, the revised total amounts to $66.5 million.

Assuming voters pass a public referendum to finance the plan, that would translate to an annual $347 tax bite on an “average” house assessed at $316,427 over the 25-year life of bonding the project.

But, “in order to reduce the tax impact, the district intends to split the bond issuance into two bond sales [which] would reduce the impact in the first year to approximately $183.50,” according to a BOE statement.

Yantacaw School, one of two schools with trailers to handle enrollment overflow, hosted the first of five “Town Hall” forums on the project slated through early next month.

Members of the school community can expect essentially the same presentation at each session. The final two were slated for Feb. 1 at Spring Garden School and Feb. 8 at Radcliffe School, all at 7 p.m.

As the plan now stands, construction would take place at Yantacaw School, Washington School, John H. Walker Middle School and Nutley High School.

Here are the key elements to the plan:

  • Walker School, currently housing grades 7 and 8, would get a three-story addition containing 20 new classrooms to accommodate the district’s sixth-grades who would move into the middle school, thereby freeing up “three to four classrooms” in each of the elementary schools, according to Schools Superintendent Julie Glazer.

The projected $36.7 million cost for the middle school construction would include new cafeteria and service kitchen, multipurpose room, bathrooms and reconfiguration of the administrative office wing.

Glazer said the sixth-graders would gain from the move by being “exposed to specialization at an earlier age” – such as science labs and industrial arts – which they would not experience at their current elementary school environments.

Sixth-graders and four “core teachers” will be housed separately in the new wing of the school building, she said, but “will mix for electives and possibly in math if they track into a higher class.”

  • Expansion at Yantacaw will provide six new classrooms, multipurpose room with kitchen, additional bathrooms, relocation of main office and secured entrance. The trailers would go. Estimated cost: $15.6 million.
  • Washington would get a three-story addition of six classrooms, bathrooms and an elevator in place of the existing trailers. Cost: $6.95 million.
  • Nutley High would benefit from additional physical education/multipurpose space and a renovated media center/TV studio space. The current media center would be converted to four new classrooms and common learning areas. Cost: $8.75 million.

Plans for expansion were actually set in motion two years ago, BOE President Dan Carnicella said, when the township acquired the bike shop property next to the Walker School.

But since the receipt of a demographer’s report predicting that, “more than 500 new students would be coming into the district in the next five years,” the BOE concluded now was the time to act, he said.

Glazer echoed that assertion, noting that the district is “currently at capacity,” meaning that there is no more “available space for delivery of instruction.”

These are the current enrollment figures, as provided by the BOE last week: Yantacaw, 485; Washington, 567; Lincoln, 471; Spring Garden, 345; Radcliffe, 339; Walker, 631; and Nutley High, 1,232.

If nothing is done to remedy overcrowding, Glazer said that elementary school class sizes “will increase,” the existing trailers “will remain” and “more trailers will be added to house additional students … as soon as 2021,” the district will face “moderate redistricting” at Yantacaw, Washington and Spring Garden,” newly registered children may be denied attendance at their neighborhood school; and academic performance will suffer.

Nutley Mayor Joseph Scarpelli told The Observer: “We know our schools are overcrowded and this has to be addressed …. Going to a middle school model that increases performance … is the best way to tackle the problem, done as economically as possible.”

Asked if he was endorsing the referendum, the mayor said: “First, I want to see feedback from the public.” He had planned to attend last Wednesday’s Town Hall forum to hear the district’s presentation and gauge residents’ reactions.

Referring to the cost and tax implications, Scarpelli added: “I understand the need but it’s a big bite of the apple.”

Glazer said the BOE is looking at a prospective timetable that would have its members meeting in closed session on Feb. 13 to review the public’s input with the architect.

Then, on Feb. 27, the BOE would “vote on the final concept” for the project which, she added, “would require a referendum” to finance. First opportunity for such a vote would be September 2017, she said.

If that happens and if the question passes, “shovels could be in the ground by June 2018 and we would expect students to be in their new classroom spaces by September 2020,” she said.

 

 

 

 

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.