Welcome to Laurie Goodman's blog. I use this space to share news and opinions about education and schools in Ridgewood, the state of New Jersey and the nation, in addition to other issues I'm personally interested in. I invite you to share your thoughts, feelings, questions or opinions, too, by posting comments on any blog entry. Please observe basic courtesy -- keep your comments focused on issues, no personal attacks or bullying, please. Contact me directly at: lauriegood@mac.com

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Referendum 5 at 5: my most frequent FAQs

I wanted a catchy title...it's almost 5:00...so here you go.

I feel the need to review some of the things I've already written (or spoken a hundred times). The questions and misinformation are swirling...I wish I could have a one-on-one conversation with everyone, because whenever I do that, we both benefit. But in the meantime, here are the questions I keep hearing -- and some bullet point answers. (Technically these were my notes for the RHS HSA meeting the other night):

1) Why now? The economy is too bad.
* The needs of the buildings are not going away, they will only get worse/more expensive.
* Now we can take advantage of $12 million in state aid, reducing the cost to the taxpayer. State aid will not be available if referendum is defeated. There is a limited "pot" of money, and other districts are in line right behind us. On December 9, if our referendum has failed, that money will be scooped up.
* Construction costs are currently lower than they've been in years (we save $$)
* Interest rates are lower than they've been in years -- if we need to borrow, now is the time -- we'll save $$ in long run
* Energy savings will help our operating budget, year after year

2) It's too much; there are too many luxuries
* We worked for two years to identify the projects; worked with every principal. Many many more projects did not make the list.
* List contains nothing luxurious or purely aesthetic. No finishes. Everything is infrastructure, health & safety, expansion/crowding/efficient use of space

3) Why not re-open Glen?
* Re-opening Glen would not save money and would not address the needs of the district as a whole. We would still need roofs at RHS, Somerville, Travell & Willard, RHS would still have all its renovation needs, GW would still be crowded, electrical needs would remain at Ridge, etc.
* Glen has 15 classrooms. 5 are currently used by preschool disabled classes. They would have to move somewhere in the district, or else add classrooms on to Glen
* Glen would require work to be brought up to current code. There is no library or cafeteria, so those would need to be added.
* Glen does not have a principal, nurse, librarian, secretary -- adding them (along with teachers needed to staff classrooms) would add to our operating budget every year. My back-of-napkin estimate is as much as $1,000,000 per year added to our budget. Since we're still capped by the state, that money will come from existing programs.

4) How did this happen? Is it mismanagement?
* We spend about $2 million every year on capital projects & maintenance. That's more than the state requires. With 11 buildings, $2 million will never allow us to do major projects like roofs at all of them. (Old home analogy: your home's new roof is financed by home improvement loan, not your weekly paycheck)
* Our budget is capped, so even if we wanted to spend more on annual capital projects, the money would have to come from somewhere else.

5) Why the luxury of turf fields, and why in a flood plain?
* Not a luxury; RHS does not have adequate outdoor teaching facilities, according to state
* Need to protect all our field assets -- turf & re-sizing will allow RHS and Stevens to be used more, lessening wear & tear on our grass fields
* Turf field engineering will actually enhance drainage and reduce flooding.
* Turf & re-sizing will allow RHS and Stephens fields to be used by more RHS students (boys & girls) and more community youth
* Regulation track will give our championship track & field athletes a facility that matches their accomplishments and caliber; host RHS meets; maintain grass infield at BF
* The fields are in the referendum (and not a 2nd question) because we feel they are important. Statistically, 2nd questions fail. Relegating the fields to a 2nd question would have killed those project.

So that's some of what I said Tuesday night at RHS. I'd like to add: I'm a taxpayer. I was laid off last year and remain "underemployed." My husband was laid off for part of this year and recently started a new job. I am not thrilled that my taxes will go up. I understand the struggle. But with the hundreds of hours I've spent working on this, and the hundreds of questions I've asked, I honestly believe this referendum is the right thing for this community and for our schools.

Please get the facts. Then vote however your heart and your circumstances dictate. If you hear a rumor or some wild claims, please just ask. I will answer if I can, or I'll tell you where to find the answer if I can't.


Anonymous said...

Thank you for the info. Very helpful.

Can you explain why we have preschool at Glen? Since when are we a PreK-12 district?

Anonymous said...

Will the additions have fire suppression (sprinkler) systems?

Laurie said...

Answer re: Pre-school:

Many people are surprised to learn that the District is required by law to provide a program for disabled preschoolers. And, part of that requirement is that they be educated in an environment that allows for maximum integration with non-disabled children. Our five classes of the RED program at Glen school satisfy this requirement because the children are able to interact with the children in the daycare which rents space at Glen (The Infant & Toddler Program). It's a great solution -- we get revenue from the daycare AND our disabled preschoolers get the education and interaction they need.

If Glen were returned to a full K-5 elementary school, we would have to find somewhere to house the five RED classrooms. If it were at Glen, it would probably require additional classrooms be built. Otherwise we would have to move them to our other buildings (which would negate some of the space problem alleviated by opening Glen in the first place).

Laurie said...

Answer re: fire sprinklers (from our architect):

No. A fire suppression system is not required so long as the new buildings do not exceed the height and area limitations established in the International Building Code based on the building’s construction type. Most likely the new additions will be constructed with a full fire wall separation that will separate the new additions from the original construction (school).

The new construction will meet all requirements established for educational occupancy to preserve the life, safety and welfare of the students and staff. The buildings will be provided with the appropriate number of exits to facilitate efficient egress from the buildings. The buildings will be designed with multiple exits that will not exceed the maximum travel distance to an exit as established by the code.