BOE finds cash to finish KHS upgrades; school tax rising


To complete the long-delayed Kearny High School addition/renovation project, the town Board of Education will have to borrow about $4 million, use $8 million of its capital reserve fund and tap about $1.25 million in “banked” surplus.

Together, those cash infusions should provide the BOE with about half of the $27,480,000 it will need to pay for new classrooms, cafeteria, atrium and HVAC work in the high school’s South Building.

The balance is expected to come from the remaining pot of money allocated to the school district by the Federal Aviation Administration, Port Authority of New York & New Jersey and state School Development Authority.

Michael DeVita, the district’s business administrator, said that the BOE is poised to award the $27.48 million contract on the North Building to the Bennett Company Inc., of Kearny, pending the outcome of a challenge filed by the second-lowest bidder, Paul Otto Building Co., of Cranford.

Bids were received Dec. 15.

POBC, hired by the BOE to complete work on the high school’s South Building, alleged that Bennett failed to comply with the Disadvantaged Business Enterprise requirements associated with bidding on federally funded projects mandating that contractors pledge a 17% budget commitment to hiring minority-owned sub-contractors.

POBC also tried to get its appeal heard by the state Commissioner of Education in the Office of Administrative Law instead of Superior Court, but Hudson County Assignment Judge Peter Bariso Jr. denied that request.

In his ruling, though, Bariso noted that as part of its bid proposal, Bennett “… proposed to subcontract out, at a minimum 7% of the work to [minority contractors] and certified its commitment to meeting the stated goal of 17%.”

DeVita said the BOE anticipates a ruling by the court on the merits of POBC’s bid challenge “by the first week of April.”

Meanwhile, on the assumption that it will be awarding Bennett the contract, the BOE voted March 21 to authorize the acquisition and installation of equipment needed by the contractor through a lease-purchase financing for up to $4.12 million. The equipment includes “chillers, energy-recovery units, a BMS (computer-based Building Management) system, lighting and controls, a fire alarm system and lockers.”

Hunterdon County Educational Services will serve as financial advisor and McManimon, Scotland & Baumann as special counsel to “determine the lowest responsive and responsible bidder to purchase the [five-year] lease.”

DeVita said the board will then apply the money it receives from the lease agreement to satisfy that portion of the high school contract along with the $8 million from capital reserve to dedicate to the project.

Assuming no further legal obstacles, DeVita said the BOE plans to award the contract in April. “The goal is to begin work this summer,” he said.

In other business conducted March 21, the BOE adopted a preliminary budget for the 2016-17 school year of $83,076,128 of which $50,681,091 must be raised from local taxation.

Unless there are any adjustments to those figures at a public hearing on the budget set for May 2 at 6 p.m. in the high school auditorium, the owner of an “average” house assessed at $95,266 can figure to pay an increase of $201.48 in school taxes for the fiscal year beginning July 1, 2016, according to DeVita. For the 2015-16 school year, the comparable increase was $87.27, he said.

One reason for the tax hike, he said, is a nearly 11% boost in the cost of employee health benefits, which will rise from about $11 million last school year to $12.2 million in the coming school year.

The BOE also agreed to contract with EarthSpec of Phillipsburg for an efficiency analysis of transportation of special education students for $20,000 and to retain the firm, First Student, to transport interscholastic participants to scheduled events between March 2016 and June 2017 for $54,855.

It tabled a proposal by Schools Superintendent Patricia Blood to contract with Right at School, LLC to provide before- and after-school services to the elementary schools, pending further review.

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