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Pointed Questions Asked On Upcoming School Referendum

SACC discussion on referemndum02

Interim schools Superintendent Lee Seitz speaks about the upcoming referendum to residents of township adult communities on Nov. 17.

 


School district representatives looking to drum up support for the upcoming $85 million referendum received a rocky reception Nov. 17 from members of four township adult communities.

Residents from Renaissance at Raritan Valley, Sterling Pointe, Canal Walk and Somerset Run had many questions – and some comments – for interim schools Superintendent Lee Seitz, Board of Education vice president Eva Nagy, interim board business administrator Arlene Biesaida and Nick DeMeglio, the volunteer leader of a parents group supporting the referendum. The four appeared at a joint meeting held by the Somerset Adult Communities Civics Coalition, an umbrella organization comprised of civic clubs from each of the communities.

District officials say they need the money to deal with a worsening overcrowding problem in the schools and to correct a bad grade alignment.

Just about half of the money  – about $45 million – is earmarked for a new elementary school on board property on Claremont Road. The remainder of the money will be used for repairs, renovations and expansion at the district’s eight elementary schools.

District officials say an overcrowding situation that is already bad – the district has spent $4 million on 24 portable classrooms – will get worse in the next several years as an anticipated 700 students enter the school system.

“If the referendum is defeated, we’re going to have a serious problem with overcrowding,” Seitz said.

The district will also realign grades, creating two grade 6-8 middle schools, with the rest of the elementary schools holding students in grades pre-K to grade 5.

While some of the adult community residents expressed their support for the referendum, the loudest applause was reserved for those who spoke against it. Many residents said they did not trust that the school board would use the money wisely, while some wondered why  they should have to pay more for a school district that doesn’t directly serve them.

“When you do this, we are concerned that you do it properly and you put the money into the students and the books and the teachers,” one woman said.

Jim Heffernan of Canal Walk asked why the district didn’t simply “retrofit” an existing building, rather than build a new school. He said there were many buildings in industrial zones that are vacant.

Nagy told him that elementary schools don’t belong in industrial areas. Besides, she added, existing buildings sometimes cost more to retrofit than new buildings cost to construct.

Sterling Pointe resident Al Levine, a former Somerville school board member, said he supported the referendum.

“I don’t see any benefit in not passing this referendum,” he said. “It’s the smartest thing for us to do educationally and financially.”

Voters head to the polls on Dec. 9 to vote on the referendum.

 

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