By Ron Leir
The Committee for Better Facilities (CBF), a group of parents and educators advocating for an upgrade in the township’s public schools infrastructure, figures it’s got all the right answers to why it should be done.
But one big question still hasn’t been answered: Will Lyndhurst voters agree?
A simple majority will decide when residents are asked to vote “yes” or “no” on a public referendum Dec. 13 on whether to permit the Board of Education to spend $28,847,091 on a wholesale district rehab plan and to sell Lincoln School, which dates from 1886.
Educators say the plan affords the best chance – short of building a new middle school – of fostering a desperately needed improved learning environment for all the students in the district which includes six elementary schools and a high school.
A worksheet put out by the CBF states that the cost of the improvements – minus $1.5 million in state grant local reimbursements and at least $3 million projected from the sale of Lincoln School – should net the owner of an “average” home assessed at $414,000 an annual tax increase of $199 for as long as it takes to pay off the debt. A 15-year bond is projected.
Assuming the referendum passes, that tax increase wouldn’t take effect until September 2014, when all the work is expected to be completed, said Schools Supt. Tracey Marinelli.
The CBF, in cooperation with Marinelli, is going all out to heighten awareness among members of the school community by hosting a series of tours and question-and-answer sessions at schools throughout the district.
At one such workshop held Nov. 29 at Lincoln School, Marinelli made her case to a group of about 15 supportive attendees (A previous function organized by the PTA drew more than 100).
Marinelli said the concept behind the planned improvements is to make education more efficient through centralization. To that end, Franklin School and Jefferson Annex would house all kindergarten students; Columbus and Washington Schools would take grades 1 to 4; and Roosevelt and Jefferson Schools would handle grades 5 to 8.
“We’d split the district in half, using Fern Ave. as the dividing line,” Marinelli said. Generally speaking, elementary-level children living south of Fern would start at Franklin then move to Washington and complete at Roosevelt, while youngsters living north of Fern would go from Jefferson Annex to Columbus to Jefferson Elementary, she explained. Hardship applications for exceptions to the rule would be considered, she said.
With that scenario as a given, the following improvements, as funded by the referendum, would be undertaken:
Throughout the district, $3.8 million in state grants would fund a variety of infrastructure renovations, including new or upgraded boilers, roofs, windows, ventilation and electrical systems and centrally-controlled heating in classrooms.
Every elementary school would get an elevator, computer lab, media center, music room, a combination art/world languages room and the ability to house three or more sections of special needs students.
Columbus and Roosevelt would each get a combination gym/lunchroom (Roosevelt’s gym would include space for a locker room and stage because its students are older).
Jefferson and Roosevelt would each be equipped with three science labs.
Having self-contained classrooms in each school would end the practice of music, art, Spanish and physical education teachers having to travel to different schools and it would also mean students wouldn’t have to “steal” time from science or math class, for example, to take instrumental music class, Marinelli said.
Also: Lyndhurst High School would get a renovated auditorium, cafeteria and air-conditioning.
Whether or not the referendum passes, Marinelli said that redistricting will go forward in an effort to remediate unbalanced enrollment in schools.
If the referendum fails, Lyndhurst schools will lose the $3.8 million in state grant funding earmarked for the infrastructure improvements throughout the district. And the district will be unable to sell Lincoln School.
In a plea to voters, the CBF states: “All kindergarten classes are currently at maximum capacity…. Children are currently learning in space that was designed for locker rooms, storage closets and offices. Bathrooms are decrepit, auditoriums are non-existent and gyms double as cafeterias. In some classes, students are forced to have primary instruction, lunch, art, music and Spanish in the same physical location. None of our schools provide our children immediate and unlimited access to technology either in the form of a computer lab or just classroom computers. It’s time for a change!”