BOE pitches $52M bond proposal

Reportedly tax-neutral project called hasty


The Edison Board of Education proposed the construction of a new elementary school, along with additions to several other schools in the district, during its Dec. 13 meeting.

The $52,856,116 proposal would need to be placed before the voters in the form of a bond referendum. Board President David Dickinson tried to allay fears about the project’s costs by making the case that it would be completely tax-neutral.

The idea behind the tax-neutral school bond is linked to the special-education cost savings that Dickinson and others have said will compensate for whatever expenses new school construction will incur. Edison, like many towns, pays to send special-education students to other districts due to factors such as lack of space or staffing to adequately teach such students in-house.

Edison currently sends out 235 special education students to other districts at a total cost of $12,664,873, an average cost of $45,263 per student.

Of the 235 special-education students, Dickinson said, 105 are elementary school-age students eligible to return to the district, and of those 105 students, the district should be able to adequately accommodate 57 in-house if the school bond passes. These students are estimated to cost $2,570,700 in outof district tuition in the 2008-09 school year, plus an additional $93,000 in transportation expenses.

The number of students, along with the tuition and transportation costs, are projected to grow as the years go on. Dickinson said that by the time the new school and additional wings would be expected to come online in the 2010-11 school year, the district would be spending $4,354,9667 on 77 out-of-district special education students. The costs for teachers and paraprofessionals for an inhouse program would total $1,348,769.

The idea is that the difference – $3,006,198 – is enough in annual savings to take care of whatever debt payments the district would incur through the bond. The state, it was estimated, would take care of 18.82 percent of the construction costs, leaving a total taxpayer burden of $42,907,248.

“It’s not going to cost you anything,” said Dickinson. “The only place it will cost is those out-of-district special-education schools [that] will lose pupils and the $45,000 per kid they’ll get. That’s who’s going to pay for this.”

Dickinson said the plan does not account for support staff such as custodians or secretaries, or a new principal for the new school, but noted that the money saved could also accommodate them.

The project itself

Garrison Architects drew up the plans and presented them to those in attendance.

The centerpiece of the school bond proposal is the construction of a new elementary school near the site of Thomas Jefferson Middle School. It would be a one-story, 83,856-square-foot building that would need a new street parallel to Sims Road to be made to access it. The school would have 26 general education classrooms, one special-education classroom, four kindergarten classrooms, offices, a gym, an art room, a music room and a cafeteria.

Woodbrook Elementary School would also receive improvements. The bond, as proposed, would add a new gym, 10 extra classrooms, a special education classroom, two offices, one extra set of bathrooms, as well as renovations to the multipurpose rooms and hallways. The addition would be 24,264 square feet.

Ben Franklin Elementary School would get eight extra classrooms, a new gym and an extra set of bathrooms. Renovations and alterations would be made to one classroom, the multipurpose room, and the hallways, the kitchen, offices, and the special-education classroom. The addition would be 21,456 square feet.

James Madison Elementary School would receive 10 extra classrooms through renovations, and a new 8,188-square-foot gym addition.


The proposal received mixed reactions from some members of the board, who said they felt the proposal was rushed, not giving them enough time to really ponder its greater implications.

“I don’t like being rushed on having to move on something tonight,” said board member Joseph Shannon, who also said he wanted to hear what the public had to say.

He and board member Deborah Anes both said there were many other schools in Edison that needed help and wondered why a whole new school was required.

“Are we fixing our roofs? Are we taking care of the buildings we currently own?” asked Anes.

Both Shannon and Anes said they weren’t comfortable voting on the measure that night, because they had only received the information the night before and thus hadn’t had time to properly digest it. Dickinson said the idea had been discussed before and was not a new topic, and that the board had gone on a retreat to discuss the matter in September. Shannon said that he thought the retreat was just a brainstorming session.

“I was not expecting a clear-cut direction [to come from it],” said Shannon.

Board member Ray Koperwhats said that time was of the essence, noting that the school district is already over capacity and that that situation will only get worse as time goes on. The new construction, if approved, will set capacity for 7,140 elementary school students against a projected enrollment of 7,067.

“We need to do something,” said Koerwhats, emphasizing the first syllable of ‘something.’ “[We need to] make sure we can solve the problems with the seating. … At the same time, we can look at all the other things we can get accomplished.”

Dickinson said that if the vote is delayed, a special election will have to be held in order to keep to the timetable for the project, and the election would cost the district $50,000.

When the proposal was opened to the public, many residents critiqued the board’s timing of the proposal, saying that they had only been made aware of it at the last minute.

“I think this board has a timetable problem. … Clearly, tonight it’s a matter of rushing,” said resident Gene Maeroff.

Others said that if this is not a new issue, then why is there a “rush” to place it on the ballot this coming April?

“It doesn’t seem like any of these are new problems. … What seems reckless is to ramrod this through in one board meeting,” said resident Hugh Gordon, who is also on the newly formed ethics board.

One woman, Nancy Tortajada, was concerned about the location of the new school.

“That’s about 50 feet from my fence to the music room door. … That’s literally in my backyard,” said Tortajada. “I’m in support of a new school. … But I saw that and was kind of taken aback.”

Dickinson said that factors such as that would be taken into account during the site plan review, if the bond passes.

Edison Mayor Jun Choi also spoke during the public portion and recommended that the board “stop this” and give the public at least some time to give input and comment before having a vote.

“Given the significance of the capital improvements you’re recommending for a community, at least what the citizens of Edison deserve is a town hall meeting in each of the respective areas for significant capital improvement, in particular Thomas Jefferson middle school,” said Choi.

He also offered to partner with the district to develop a Payment in Lieu of Taxes program utilizing the former Fords site, to fund new schools at no cost to the taxpayers.

Other members of the public expressed support for the board’s proposal, saying it was innovative and cost-effective.

“I don’t always agree with this Board of Education, but this one is for the kids and it also helps the parents. … This is the first time I’ve seen someone thinking outside the box,” said Councilman Robert Karabinchak.

Emil Ferlicchi, president of the Edison Township Education Association, said crowded classrooms are negatively impacting the students’ education. He threw in his support for the proposal, saying it would greatly increase the quality of education in the district by freeing up classroom space

“My teachers do a great job, but the weight of educating those kids has been getting heavier and heavier. … Higher class sizes, is that what we want for our kids?” said Ferlicchi.

It was decided that in light of public reaction, the vote on the bond referendum will take place at 7 p.m. Dec. 19 at the board offices.