Stafford Schools Referendum Would Cover $10.1 Million in Upgrades

Voters Decide on Dec. 13
Oct 12, 2016

The Stafford Township School District on Dec. 13 will be seeking approval from township voters on a school referendum bond of $10.1 million, and with good reason, said the district superintendent.

“We have a lot of aged items in our facilities that need to be replaced,” said Superintendent George J. Chidiac. “A lot of items are original from when the buildings were constructed. And instead of replacing parts all the time – many of them don’t even have replacement parts – we wanted to address these needs in a more long-term way.”

The district is home to Oxycocus Elementary, Ocean Acres Elementary, McKinley Avenue Elementary, Stafford Intermediate School and the Ronald L. Meinders Primary Learning Center. Each facility needs upgrades to safety and security devices as well as energy and environmental systems, according to Chidiac.

“We have a boiler in one of the buildings that’s 70 years old,” he said. “We have some security cameras internally, but only by the front doors. We have fire and burglar alarms that are outdated and need to be upgraded. There’s a lot that needs to be done.

“Our first and foremost priority is to create a safe learning environment for our students, and we believe this referendum will cover us in these areas for a long time.”

According to Business Administrator Dan Smith, the district is seeking to acquire 40 percent in funding from the state to help defray the impact of the $10.1 million bond – about $4.04 million – with the remaining $5.96 million expected to be covered by the district’s debt service fund, which already comes through the tax levy. Smith said the referendum is not expected to increase the tax levy.

“The debt service fund is used strictly for debt,” he said. “We’re getting close to the end of a previous debt schedule and within the next three or four years that will come to end, so we can add this new debt and it will get paid over the next 20 years with no tax increase.”

According to a special referendum page on the district website (staffordschools.org), a facilities committee has outlined all of the needs that would be covered by the referendum. All of the items center on replacing or improving outdated, inefficient equipment and systems.

The critical needs in all schools include: district-wide implementation of consistent security, access and camera-system improvements; new fire alarm and public-address systems, as well as new emergency generators for power outages; replacement of heating, air conditioning and ventilation (HVAC) systems and original electrical infrastructure; replacement of doors for functionality and security; providing accessible toilet rooms and upgrading restroom facilities for overall functionality, water quality and conservation to better meet the needs of students and staff.

With the seemingly ever-increasing threat of security breaches in schools across the country, Chidiac said it was vitally important to take the safety of the district’s students seriously.

“The New Jersey School Security Task Force gives recommendations for improved safety, with a 50-page document that outlines certain security measures,” he said. “And the bottom line is we want to have safe, secure schools, where our parents can be happy that their children will be in a safe place while they’re being educated. We want to make sure we’re prepared, and we always have to be prepared for the worst.”

Chidiac said the “driving force” behind the referendum is the fact the district is eligible for up to 40 percent funding from the state.

“That’s a big number,” he said. “If we tried to do all of this through our annual budget, it would be fully reliant on the taxpayers. But if the state can give us $4 million of what we need, we believe that’s a no-brainer. We would rather keep our capital reserve money for our programs and personnel because we’re very proud of them and want to keep them in place.”

Several information sessions have been scheduled to acclimate residents with the details of the referendum and its outlined projects. Starting with the board of education meeting on Thursday, Oct. 20 (7 p.m.) at the Oxycocus School, 250 North Main St. in Manahawkin, an additional “Referendum Information Night” at the Stafford Township Arts Center will be held Wednesday, Nov. 16. District representatives also will be meeting with the Stafford Republican Club, Beach Haven West and Ocean Acres civic associations on various dates.

Chidiac said referendum presentations are open to all community organizations, and requests for such presentations can be made to the district office at 609-978-5700, extension 1000. Residents also may email questions or concerns about the referendum plans to facilityneeds@staffordschools.org.

— David Biggy

biggy@thesandpaper.net

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