New Providence’s 2016 bond referendum FAQ
New Providence’s School Bond FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions). Many residents have asked similar questions in Board of Education (BOE) presentations and again in various Facebook groups in preparation to voting on 9/27/2016. In order to help I’ve pulled together a School Bond FAQ paraphrasing BOE, Superintendent, and Principal answers and indicated my own opinions in italics.
Updates to the original will be in gray. Thanks for the great feedback!
9/28/2016 – Bond passes 985 to 433, with 2.3 yes votes to every no vote.
1. History & School Bond FAQ
1.1 Strategic Process for 2010-2015
1.2 Superintendent and Principal led Forums
1.3 Process for emergency budget cuts in Spring of 2010
In an effort to address high taxes, a new governor made deep cuts in state aid to schools, with New Providence suddenly losing over a million dollars, including our rainy day capital expenditure fund of the maximum allowed $550,000. (For more detail see 6.0 Finance, below).
1.3.1 What we valued most
1.3.2 What we cut
In response to this cost-cutting environment, I led the expansion of elementary after-school enrichment program. Eventually, the BOE found the money to fund the most popular clubs.
1.4 The rise and fall of after school enrichment for elementary kids
1.4.1 The Rise
1.4.2 The Fall
1.4.2 The challenge of 4th to 8th graders after school.
1.4.3 The battle for joyful learning is won or lost partnering with schools
1.5 Strategic Process for 2015-2020
1.6 Vision 2020 Strategic Goals and STEM Department Chair
1.7 After school for 4th to 8th graders
1.7.1 In 2014-2015
1.7.2 In 2016
- Sylvan Learning – Coding for Kids (Hopefully beginning in October)
- AlphaBest Education (mostly K-5) – Go Green: Recycled Racers, Build it With Lego, Storytelling With Lego, STEM Maker Lab: Ocean Rescue, Chemistry Crime Mysteries and BeeBot Robot Discovery.
If we want classes to stay then we have to enroll and communicate with Recreation!
1.8 Translating Strategic Goals to an action plan with staff
During the following year (2015-2016) our new STEM department chair worked with faculty to assess our curriculum, standards etc. in light of our Vision 2020 goals, which they presented at January 2016 BOE. He described this as getting the plumbing and electrical right before we worry about window treatments. Every standard and every teacher in every building was included. An example of a rubric was that technology in a presentation had to enhance meaning, be legible, audible etc. Then, the blue prints were drafted at high level, presented to the public for questions, revised again in more detail.
2.1 Why is STEM being given such prominence?
2.2 Is STEM just for Gifted and Talented Kids?
Advanced Placement and Project Lead the Way, our new K-12 engineering curriculum, are joining forces.
3.1 Are classes suddenly bigger? Enrollment Estimates
- Middle school enrollment is as forecast last year – 362 students. Peak is expected to be 420 students in about 3 years.
- High school enrollment was forecast to be 668 and actual was 664. As the enrollment peak reaches the high school then a shared facility will make it easier to allocate rooms as needed between grades.
- Projected elementary enrollment without preschool or LLC was 1269, but it came in as 1286, up 17 students. As of last spring 2016-2017 was expected to be the peak enrollment year for the elementary schools
- Between 8/10 and start of kids 34 additional kids enrolled, 24 of them elementary school
- According to realtors between 8/1 and 9/1 28 houses closed, 22 of which had 4 bedrooms. A 4 bedroom house in NP costs 33% less than Chatham.
- Enrollment estimates posted Friday 9/16/2016 on NPSD board web site.
- Pretty good description of proposed new classrooms
3.2 How is enrollment estimated?
Live birth rates, which have been historically quite accurate. When we were ranked #1 our enrollment went up about 8%. This seems to be how BOE’s estimate enrollment across the country. The BOE is open to all measures in the future that might help us estimate or respond to growth. They’ve said this repeatedly.
Interestingly, when richer towns were ranked #1 they report less of a growth in enrollment. Fewer people can afford a $1,000,000 house.
3.3 Can we change the referendum now to add more classrooms?
No. The state does their own enrollment projections to make sure we don’t overbuild. The state also has to approve each element of our plans, a lengthy process. We already know that the 8 new classrooms and 14 improved classrooms are needed in September of next year to support students already in district.
The community could have changed what was in the bond when it was presented twice last Spring (2016).
3.4 I’m a parent worried about class sizes. How will this bond help?
3.4.1 Will Salt Brook’s “small group instruction” rooms help out with large class sizes? How might they be used.
Yes, the new and renovated rooms at each elementary school give the principals the flexibility to add another section at each elementary school next September. Those are in addition to a new STEM room at each school.
The next generation science standards have more STEM components which the new STEM room(s) in each building will be useful for. These rooms will also give us space to hold school competitions and clubs. Otherwise, the only room is the Media Center, which is already in heavy demand.
3.4.2 What will a yes (or no) vote buy me next September in my school?
A yes on this bond buys us 8 new class rooms, 8 rooms renovated to be more flexible for a total of 16 rooms that are either new or more capable.
Salt Brook – 2 new rooms + 1 renovated STEM room
- Convert locker rooms into 2 new small group instruction rooms
- Renovate an existing classroom into 1 STEM room
- My guess is the extra classroom for another section could come from moving resource room or LLD groups into the 2 new small instruction rooms and freeing up an existing room
Allen W. Roberts – 1 new classroom + 1 new STEM room
- Convert locker rooms into 1 regular sized classroom where a new section could be housed
- 1 new STEM room, also from locker rooms
Middle School – 1 new classroom + 1 AC room + 1 hallway “short cut”
- 1 new class room along a new hallway from the MS classrooms to the MS gym
- 1 newly air conditioned classroom (new hallway means it will no longer have outside windows.
- Short cut hallway from middle school hall to middle school gym (which will save a HUGE walk around for students)
High School – 4 new rooms, 2 Renovated rooms
- Renovate Graphic Design room – STEM wing
- Renovate Industrial Arts room – STEM wing
- 2 new STEM classrooms – STEM wing
- 2 new Universal laboratories with gas, water and electric at the stations – 1 in STEM wing, 1 next to library
Shared MS/HS resources 3 renovated spaces
- Renovate library – separate entrance. Books around walls. Furniture in middle can be moved around multiple times a day as needed.
- Renovate one of the gyms, new flooring, acoustic panels & other stuff
- 1 resource room by converting the science storage closet. While the room is new it isn’t a new capability because it replaces one from the new STEM wing.
3.4.3 Will a “no” vote mean that NP kids won’t be able to schedule all of their requirements before graduation?
No. It will make it more challenging for kids to schedule all requirements and it will limit opportunities for all students in order to prioritize upper classmen requirements for graduation. As we offer more programming and more advanced course work we introduce more complexity into the schedule. If a particular course is only offered in 1 class period we need space to offer it. Electives won’t be elective. Underclassmen will take the class that fits their schedule.
New vestibule at each building with “Deadman doors.” Visitors and deliveries to the school can be allowed to enter, but access to the entire facility will be restricted by a second set of doors. New door locks through out district and sometimes new doors. Proposals developed after consultations with local police, state police, the former Superintendent of Sandy Hook, and Homeland security.
5.0 Why weren’t funds allocated for X?
5.1 Air Conditioning in HS/MS Auditorium and more classrooms.
It is usually very hot the first week of school and for two weeks at the end of the school year. In 2016 the fall heat continued for the 2nd week of classes. This typically affects graduation, awards night and one other event. Estimate for AC in the auditorium is $600,000, including $200,000 to redo all of the electric in that area. AC to existing classrooms will require a major upgrade to MS/HS building’s electrical and redoing all of the wiring, which dramatically adds to the expense. BOE deemed AC to not be as urgent as other items.
Electrical upgrade might also be required at Salt Brook and Allen W Roberts. AC could also enable district to go to a trimester system, with longer breaks and a shorter summer. While more efficient for educating our kids, it might disrupt many families summer traditions.
5.2 Replacing Turf at Lieder Field?
The expected useful life of turf fields is turning out to be longer than originally estimated. Lieder and other fields like it seem to be in good shape and are wearing well. BOE believes we have other avenues for addressing funding for that Lieder Field. The bond does include work on the middle school gym (I believe the floors are being resurfaced and acoustic panels are being added for noise control.)
My guess is it is on their short list of scheduled maintenance items for the next expected bond in 10 years.
5.3 Repaving the parking lots, especially at AWR
Was on the $30 million wish list but deemed less urgent than other infrastructure items. Likely to be part of the next bond in 10 years.
5.4 If work comes in under budget, what items are you most likely to add?
- Window replacements to make them more efficient
- Furniture – Taking out old and redoing classrooms. Doing a few every year.
- Much beautification is paid for by PTA’s/PTO/s
6.0 Financing –
Explained fairly well in Bond Referendum FAQ’s.
6.1 Do we receive any state money for this construction?
Yes, 36% will be reimbursed for this project. The state pays 40% for renovations and 20% for new construction. We are renovating the last under-utilized spaces. After this additions will be new construction and hence more expensive.
6.2 Why can’t the school district save a little each year for big ticket items just like households do?
In New Jersey big expenditures on schools are financed with bonds. Our school district used to keep a rainy day fund, the maximum we’re allowed, $550,000. However, in Spring of 2010 the state of NJ was short funds and they took it. Trenton literally went into the accounts of local school districts across the sate that were fiscally responsible and took their rainy day funds, so New Providence doesn’t do that anymore. In 2011 a 2% cap was established on tax increases without a referendum vote similar to the one we’re having on September, 27.
Twenty year bonds worth $7.5 MM are retiring. If we vote “no” our property taxes will go down and the schools will have that much less money.
These bonds were refinanced twice, which is the bond size BOE expected to float when they started the Vision 2020 strategy meetings. Parents and staff asked for about $30 MM of really important things. The BOE chose the most urgent $15.9 MM.
We are AAA rated. Coupon rate calculated at 3%, but could be less. Last bond was 11 years ago. Next tranche retires in 10 years.
7.0 What other sources may I look to for information?
- Information on the Bond Referendum [was] on the district web site
- TAPinto New Providence
- New Providence BOE $15.9 M Referendum Based on Need: Vote Set for September 27
New Providence Board of Education Provides Referendum Info to Borough Council
What The Referendum Means to New Providence School District; Community Open Discussions Scheduled
Did I miss one? Please let me know & I’ll be happy to add it.