The Montville Township Board of Education unanimously voted Aug. 22 to hold a two-question bond referendum on Dec. 12. That action turned months of research and consideration over to the public for the next step in a quest to add much-needed space, improve energy efficiency and bolster security.
“Given these needs, the board determined that a bond referendum is the best tool for our district at this time,” Board of Education President David Modrak said. “A referendum puts the decision in the hands of voters to decide the future of our schools.”
Space has been getting tighter in the district’s elementary schools due to gradually rising enrollment and evolutions in education. For the upcoming 2023-2024 academic year the district’s elementary school enrollment is about 100 students beyond what the state deems an appropriate instructional capacity of the buildings. That rise is forecasted to continue based on natural population growth within Montville Township’s existing housing supply. If planned housing developments are added into the equation, that forecast intensifies the need for more space.
Meanwhile, the elementary schools have continually evolved to meet student needs by establishing more small-group instructional space. For example, a temporary divider propped on a table is used to divide a classroom so that small numbers of students who need to catch up in English or math can do so simultaneously. Services such as speech therapy are often offered in hallways because there is not enough classroom space for one-on-one instruction.
"We have taken every step possible to maximize space," Superintendent Thomas Gorman said. “We are relying on these short-term methods with the recognition that the schools will continue needing space in the long term to support our educational services and programs.”
A bond referendum is a vote in which a school district seeks permission to borrow money through the sale of bonds. Property taxes are used to “buy back,” or pay for this method of borrowing as payments are spread out similar to the way a consumer uses a home improvement loan.
This kind of upfront funding would let the district manage large-scale improvements that would be difficult to cover through the regular operating budget.
“In addition, a referendum is a strategic way to fund projects because it’s the only route to a dedicated source of state aid," Gorman said. “Taxpayers across New Jersey contribute to this state aid, but it is only awarded to school districts where voters approved bond sales. A voter-approved bond referendum could bring some of that money back to Montville Township.”
Question 1 includes more general classrooms, renovations to divide classrooms more completely, and three additional multi-purpose rooms. The board proposes the construction of 23 new classrooms; the division of 14 classrooms to make 28 rooms that are right-sized for small group instruction; and the addition of multi-purpose rooms at Hilldale, William Mason and Woodmont elementary schools. Other elementary schools in the district have these now, and they ease scheduling challenges in those busy buildings. Together, these proposed additions would meet MTPS needs that are driven by current enrollment, evolutions in the ways instructional space is used, and projections for future enrollment.
Costs are estimated at $53,002,289. The board plans to contribute $6,575,000 from Capital Reserve, which is similar to a dedicated savings account, toward Question 1 projects. State aid is committed for $3,671,775 toward these project costs. For a home with the average assessment in Montville Township, these improvements would cost about $326 a year.
Question 2 focuses on the efficiencies of modern heating/cooling systems and stepped-up security of two-stage entrances at the five school buildings that don’t have them now. Heating units, many of which were installed when the schools were built, would be replaced with more modern equipment that heats, cools and ventilates air more efficiently. Two-stage vestibules would continue the district’s efforts to keep schools secure; it used regular operating funds this summer to create those kinds of entrances at Cedar Hill Elementary School and Robert R. Lazar Middle School. Question 2 projects total $16,980,314 and the state has committed $5,773,307 toward them. For a home with the average assessment in Montville Township, these improvements would cost about $84 a year.
According to the resolution approved by the Board of Education Aug. 22: Question 1 must pass for Question 2 to also pass. If voters reject Question 1 but approve Question 2, neither proposal would pass.
Other project information is explained at montville.net/referendum.
“After months of exploration, this spring we began sharing information about our district’s needs and the potential for a bond referendum,” Gorman said. “With the board’s official action to move forward, we will accelerate our outreach with speaking engagements, a public presentation from the district’s architect, and a webinar-styled forum with Q&A. We are committed to offering multiple learning opportunities for the community now through Dec. 12.”