Public hearing expected on school expansion plan


FREEHOLD — A state Department of Education review launched in response to a request from the Freehold Borough K-8 School District is “moving forward,” according to Superintendent of Schools Rocco Tomazic.

After a $32.9 million school construction referendum was rejected by voters twice, the Board of Education petitioned the state to approve the planned expansion and renovations of school facilities so that the district may educate a growing student enrollment.

The board is requesting full funding for the project from the state Legislature or the issuance of bonds to finance the capital improvements.

Tomazic said this week he was copied on a letter from Education Commissioner David C. Hespe to Laura Sanders, acting director and chief administrative law judge in the New Jersey Office of Administrative Law. Hespe has asked Sanders to assign an administrative law judge to conduct an uncontested hearing regarding the board’s request for the issuance of bonds.

Referring to Hespe’s letter as “moving forward” in the legal process, Tomazic said, “We look forward to the day when all interested persons can express their views before the administrative law judge on this issue at the public hearing. It is important for our students and for our district to have this matter definitively settled.”

Hespe informed Sanders that the “Bureau of Facilities in the Department of Education has conducted a preliminary review and determined that the requisite referenda were conducted and defeated” and that “at least one referendum contained no excess costs, and that all necessary documentation has been properly completed and submitted by the school district.”

A public comment period relating to the board’s petition to Hespe ended on June 8.

Tomazic said 408 written comments were submitted by members of the public and he said many of the comments supported the board’s position.

A date for the hearing will be announced to the community and notice of the meeting will be published in at least two newspapers, according to Hespe’s letter.

Testimony from interested individuals will be heard and district administrators will be required to present proof as to why the capital project is necessary to continue to provide a thorough and efficient education.

Hespe asked Sanders to proceed “as expeditiously as possible, because if the district’s inability to continue to provide a through and efficient education is established, the process of initiating and completing the capital project the bonds would fund shall be undertaken forthwith.”

Board President Michael Lichardi said, “The board is pleased the process has not stalled and has, in fact, gained momentum in a positive way. I feel that in light of the volatile nature of the opinions surrounding the capital project, it has become important that all parties are provided an opportunity to express their views before a judge at the public hearing for a fair and balanced decision based upon law. The board will have no difficulty providing supportive proof of the acute necessity of the project.”