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$85 Million School Referendum Comes Down To The Voters

Sampson-G-Smith-School

If the proposed referendum is approved, Sampson G. Smith would become one of two middle school campuses in the district.


Township voters will decide Dec. 9 whether they’re willing to invest an average $166 a year in funding improvements to the school district’s buildings and realigning the elementary school grades.

That’s the increase in yearly school-portion property tax bills estimated by school officials if the roughly $85 million referendum is approved. The figure is based on the average residential assessment of $306,058.

To be specific, the referendum calls for $84,897,326. The district is eligible for $3,417,069 in state grants, which would lower the taxpayer responsibility to $81,482,931. Another $15 million in debt relief is also possible, district officials say.

The money will be used to build another elementary school on Claremont road, expand Hillcrest and Elizabeth Avenue schools and renovate the remaining elementary schools, according to district documents.

The work is needed, district officials have said, to accommodate an expected 700 new students over the next five years. The students are projected to come from a number of housing projects that are either underway or planned in the township.

Plans include creating 20 new classrooms, a library/media center, cafeteria and gym at Elizabeth Avenue and four new special education classrooms at Hillcrest.

The plan will also create two grade 6-8 middle schools, at the current Middle School on Francis Street and at Sampson G. Smith school on Amwell Road. District officials have said this arrangement is better for the students because 5th and 6th graders should not be in the same building and it reduces the number of times children have to change schools.

The curriculum at both schools will be the same, officials have said.

Various safety and maintenance projects are also planned, including replacing roofs, windows and doors and heating and ventilations systems in schools, and ridding the district of the portable classrooms now being used.

The district currently uses 12 trailers at six schools to handle overcrowding. The trailers cost about $4 million and hold 400 students during the day, district officials have said.

Once all the work is done, the district will be able to fund costs associated with the referendum through the normal budget process, interim schools Superintendent Lee Seitz said.

“All referendum associated staffing, resources, transportation, and energy costs will be handled within the annual operating budget,” Seitz said in an email. “This has been the case with all enrollment increases over the past 10 years and will continue to be the case. Additionally, the referendum will allow the district to return 24 teachers plus support personnel (such as aides) to new, permanent classrooms at no additional cost to the district.

“Additionally, not all of the additional staff will be needed immediately,” Seitz said in the email. “Over the next five years the district will experience student enrollment growth, projected to be over 700 students, thereby spreading the cost of additional staff over five budget years, again, making it possible for the district to operate within the budget restrictions that are currently in place.”

The plan has its supporters, but critics have also popped up at school board meetings and in public forums in which the district plan has been presented. Objections range from the project being too expensive, to comments that the maintenance projects should have been dealt with over the years before they became so large.

Speaking recently before a group of residents of the township’s active adult communities, Seitz said that if the referendum is not approved, overcrowding conditions at the schools will get worse.

Seitz said the overcrowding could result in classes being held in spaces other than classrooms, and the continued use of the outdoor trailers.

For more information on the referendum, visit the district’s referendum Web site.

Polls will be open on Dec. 9 from 2-9 p.m.

For information on polling locations, click here.

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