The South Orange-Maplewood Board of School Estimate will begin the process of considering a tax levy to pay for a proposed $140 million Long Range Facilities Plan — or LRFP — at an informal workshop on December 6.
The workshop, to be held at the South Orange-Maplewood School District meeting room at 525 Academy Street in Maplewood, will start at 7 p.m. It will be broadcast on SOMAtv and livestreamed via the district’s website. Public comments will be allowed during the “hearing of individuals and delegations.” (See AGENDA below.)
According to a memo from SOMSD Business Administrator Paul Roth to the members of the BSE:
[On] November 19, 2018, the South Orange & Maplewood Board of Education authorized administration and the architect to submit schematics capital projects for the submission of health and safety renovations and facility expansion for the K-5 / 6-8 / 9-12 building configuration, facility expansion for preschool, air conditioning the facilities, and reinforcing roofs for a solar system to the New Jersey Department of Education. The debt service analysis was updated based upon the recent approval of the K-5 / 6-8 / 9-12 building configuration and
estimated tax impact.
Due to the size and scope of the proposed capital plan, a resolution will be presented to the Board of School Estimate. The purpose of the resolution is to be fully transparent and determine if the Board of School Estimate agrees the capital projects, in the estimated amount of $140.4 million for the submission of health and safety renovations and facility expansion for the K-5 / 6-8 / 9-12 building configuration, is practical before incurring approximately $75,000 in architectural fees to prepare and submit schematics to the New Jersey Department of Education.
If the plan moves forward, the BOE will vote to request funding from the BSE formally in February; the BSE would then vote on funding the plan in March. The plan would raise annual taxes on local homeowners by hundreds of dollars per year; however, BOE members, in approving to send the plans to an architect, agreed that the improvements were necessary and could not be put off any longer.
But what is the Board of School Estimate — or BSE?
In most NJ school districts, bond issues go to a referendum. Not so in SOMSD. According to the district’s website:
In addition to setting policy, the Board hires the superintendent; approves staff hirings, transfers, resignations, terminations, and leaves of absence; approves expenditures; approves educational programs (curriculum); and otherwise ensures that the facilities and equipment are available to support learning and teaching in the District. The Board also approves the budget for the School District. However, the tax levy is approved by a separate entity, the Board of School Estimate, which is comprised of three members of the Village Trustees of South Orange, three members of the Township Committee of Maplewood and two members of the Board of Education.
South Orange BSE members are Village President Sheena Collum and Trustees Howard Levison and Karen Hilton (with Trustee Steve Schnall as alternate); Maplewood BSE members are Mayor Vic DeLuca, Deputy Mayor Frank McGehee and Township Committee member Greg Lembrich (with TC member Dean Dafis as alternate).
Board of Education President Elizabeth Baker addressed the situation at the Nov. 19 BOE meeting:
“So just to be clear, the BOE votes on the integration plan. The BSE doesn’t have jurisdiction about how we reconfigure our organizational model within our schools. They have jurisdiction over the tax levy for the construction,” said Baker.
Interim Superintendent of Schools Dr. Thomas Ficarra noted that he is still getting used to the BSE model, as he previously only worked with a model where such bonds/levies went to a referendum.
However, Ficarra has quickly adapted, publicly presenting to the the governing bodies in both South Orange and Maplewood early in the planning process. In fact, while speaking at the Maplewood Township Committee meeting on December 4, Baker noted that the district has involved town leaders from the beginning.
The strategy has garnered results. South Orange BSE members voiced their support for the plan — as well as add-ons for sports fields and air conditioning — via a Facebook post earlier this week. In addition, Maplewood BSE member Greg Lembrich published an opinion piece touting his support for the LRFP as well as school desegregation, calling the need to approve both “a moral imperative” for the community.