Support urged for school referendum

Overcrowding, quality of education expected to improve at three schools


Staff Writer

EAST BRUNSWICK — “Get Out the Vote” isn’t just a rallying cry for the Nov. 2 election.

In East Brunswick, some students and parents are also lobbying for people to support the school building referendum scheduled for Dec. 14.

Residents in support of the $106 million, three-school proposal hope it will help solve overcrowding and infrastructure problems in the district.

At an Oct. 14 Board of Education meeting, parents and students spoke publicly to urge community support of the project, which will be followed in a couple years by a second referendum for additions and renovations at other district schools.

One eighth-grader, Bari Diarbekirian, used his time at Hammarskjold Middle School to illustrate why change is desperately needed.

He said his grades suffered as a result of the conditions at Hammarskjold, which is to be replaced with a new building as the main part of the first referendum. Bari said one of the problems was that he was often late for class due to the fiercely overcrowded hallways. He said he spent too much time in hallways and not enough in classrooms.

Now a Churchill Junior High student, Bari said even his eating habits were affected by the environment at Hammarskjold. He said lunch lines were so long that he sometimes could not even buy his food in time to eat it.

He further described the situation in classrooms and hallways as “chaotic.”

The improved conditions at Churchill — the result of an earlier referendum — allow for a better educational environment, he noted.

With fewer distractions, it’s much easier to learn at Churchill than it was at Hammarskjold, he said. The result has been better grades for him.

“Think of the students’ point of view when you go to vote,” he said.

Board meetings are replayed on EBTV several times.

The board, which voted unanimously to hold the referendum, also found support in Debbie Gartenberg, a parent and PTA president at Warnsdorfer School.

Gartenberg said she would like to commend Superintendent of Schools Jo Ann Magistro and Coordinator of Community Relations and Programs Patricia LaDuca for garnering support and doing an “outstanding job” on the referendum.

She said her daughter also went to Hammarskjold and did not appreciate the conditions. Magistro has referred to Hammarskjold as being in “deplorable” shape.

She said that because of the old lockers used at the school, it took her daughter a week to even get into her locker. She said students also get knocked over trying to get to their lockers, due to the overcrowding in the hallways.

In addition, she noted there were 37 students in her daughter’s gym class. That was far too many for an effective game of volleyball, she said.

She also pointed out how many Hammarskjold teachers cannot even have classrooms, and are thus forced to teach their classes from carts. The school also has been using trailers for additional space.

The second referendum is expected to take place in December 2006. The first referendum will ask voters to spend about $81 million to build a new Hammarskjold School and expand the Central and Lawrence Brook schools. The state will contribute an additional $25 million to the project.

This referendum calls for a new Hammarskjold and the expansion and renovation of both the Central and Lawrence Brook elementary schools.

While performing more minor renovations at East Brunswick High School had also been a component of this referendum, that work, totaling $6 million, has been taken out and will instead be funded through a lease purchase agreement.

The second referendum, expected in 2006, will total about $54 million and will include the expansion and renovation of the district’s other elementary schools.

The school district has been offering residents a chance to tour the schools marked for improvement in the first referendum.

Upcoming tours of Hammarskjold are Nov. 17 at 9:30 a.m. and Dec. 9 at 1:15 p.m.; tours of Central are scheduled for Nov. 17 at 2 p.m. and Dec. 8 at 10 a.m.; and tours of Lawrence Brook will be held Nov. 8 at 11:30 a.m. and Dec. 2 at noon.

Those interested are asked to call the school several days in advance to participate in a tour. Call (732) 613-6892 for Hammarskjold; (732) 613-6820 for Central; and (732) 613-6870 for Lawrence Brook.