by Liz Griesmer
The bond referendum for roof repairs and replacement was passed by a margin of 1157 votes on Dec. 11, according to westfieldnjk12.org.
According to a BOE presentation, the total cost to fix the schools’ roofs is approximately $14 million. The roofs of WHS and two other schools will be completed by the summer of 2013, and all other roofs will be completed by the summer of 2014.
Had the bond failed, the school district would have needed to allocate $4 million per year towards the roofs for the next three to four years. This budget cut could have resulted in the loss of 50 staff positions, an increase in class sizes at all levels and cutbacks in the fine arts department, electives and athletics.The schools would have also faced reduced funds for technology, STEM initiatives and maintenance to facilities, according to the BOE presentation.
"The Board wanted the community to understand the relationship between the roofing projects and our educational and co-curricular programs so that [voters] could make an informed decision," said BOE member Ms. Ann Cary. To this end, several members of the school community wrote letters that were circulated to residents through email and at school functions like the WHS Fall Play.
Said BOE Member Jane Clancy: “The Board has held over ten public Board meetings on the conditions of the roofs. We have had presentations on the conditions and costs for months... Information has also been sent home to anyone who is signed up for the Superintendent's synopsis as well as the school newsletters. There were also several additional public meetings held to help inform the public and answer questions about the bond.”
In an email to the district, Superintendent Dr. Margaret Dolan stated that the bond funds will spread out the payment of the roof repair over the course of 20 years.
English Teacher Ms. Alexis Anderson-Urriola said that the teachers were nervous about the possible consequences but are now relieved by the results. “With cuts that
deep, you can’t anticipate what the fallout’s going to be,” said Anderson-Urriola.
The Westfield school district, which experienced a 96 percent decrease in state aid in 2010, now depends on bonds to fund certain capital projects to the school, according to Dolan.
No grant money is available from the state to fund the roof project.
"I very much approved the passage of the bond. I think that 31 dollars per household is a small price to pay for the retention of 50 teachers and programs at WHS," said senior SGA President Alex Jeffery.
Added senior Rob Cassie: "Bonds are the best way to fund major construction projects because the funds are collected over the lifetime of the project, instead of placing the burden on the operating budget of one school year. Westfield has successfully funded many construction projects with bonds, including WHS' science wing and auditorium renovation, Kehler Stadium's turf field, new track, and girls' fieldhouse, and the overhaul of Lincoln School for use as an early childhood learning center."
In September, Westfield voters rejected a bond that included both roofing repair and a lighted turf field by a margin of 2366 votes. Approximately 1,000 more residents voted in the September referendum versus this month’s referendum.
Anderson-Urriola said of voters accepting the referendum in December rather than September, “People were thinking about the issue practically rather than emotionally.” She added that the results reflect community priorities on an essential issue.
"There is always the threat of the loss of State aid, which happened three years ago, but for now, we can say that there will be no cuts in the coming budget," said Cary.
Said Dolan, "We can move forward with our roofing projects, knowing that we will ensure a safe environment for our students and maintain the integrity of our infrastructure...without consequences to the educational and co-curricular opportunities that our students deserve."