School district discusses possible $21 million bond referendum

According to their calculations, the average homeowner would pay an additional $10 a month in school taxes if the referendum is successfully passed.

A vote on a nearly $21 million bond referendum could be on the horizon for the Moorestown Township School District. To accomodate full-day kindergarten, the district is considering reconfiguring the current grade levels, which would mean moving sixth grade from the Upper Elementary School to William Allen Middle School and adding classrooms to WAMS to make space for these students.

The district’s architect, Robert Garrison of Garrison Architects, presented the district’s proposed long-range facilities plan at last Tuesday’s board of education meeting. According to their calculations, the average homeowner would pay an additional $10 a month in school taxes if the referendum is passed.

At the last board meeting, Superintendent Scott McCartney explained the district’s current extended-day kindergarten program brings in approximately $600,000 each year, so they’d be looking at a $600,000 hole in the budget if they converted their free program from half-time to full-time. To offset these costs, the district is considering expanding the current pre-K program into a tuition-based, full-day program to help re-create the revenue it would be losing. To do this, it would need additional classroom space.

Given that the district would not receive state aid for construction of new buildings and that the district’s three elementary schools are on sites that can’t accommodate additions, WAMS made for the most logical place to add on classrooms. The potential additions include eight general education classrooms, a CAD lab, new faculty lounge and a gym.

All three elementary schools in the district would also undergo construction as well. All pre-K classrooms are required to have a bathroom in the classroom as well as cubbies and furniture that are age-appropriate. The current classrooms would have to be modified to fit the pre-K curriculum.

As presented, Baker Elementary School, Roberts Elementary School and South Valley Elementary School would house pre-K through second grade; the Upper Elementary School would house third through fifth grade and WAMS would hold sixth through eighth grade.

Also included in the proposal are energy conservation and safety upgrades at every building in the district. McCartney explained that since receiving a $1.2 million grant for safety upgrades at Moorestown High School, the district has been engaged in conversations about how to implement similar safety measures at the other schools.

Garrison said all of the projects are eligible for state funding. The total estimated cost of the project is nearly $29 million. He said they predict the state share coming in at around $8 million and the local share coming in around nearly $21 million.

The district has four potential dates when it could hold a special election, but if would be eligible for the cost of the polling facilities for these dates. If the district chooses to piggyback on the Nov. 5 election, it would not be responsible for the polling facility costs. For that reason, the district is eyeing a Nov. 5 ballot question date.

McCartney explained their goal is not to ask the community for “a bunch of money.” With salaries and benefits eating up 81 percent of the budget and the remaining 19 percent being comprised largely of facility costs, the budget leaves little money for growth.

For that reason, the environmental design concepts are intended to reduce the cost of operations, and the new gym space could serve as a source of a source of income by renting it out to the community. McCartney said these funds could help them bring back programs and initiatives that they’ve had to cut year-after-year.

“To me it’s a comprehensive look at how to solve problems that have existed and have been a conversation for 15, 20 years in some cases,” McCartney said.

Garrison said Moorestown currently has steady debt until 2030 when the debt starts to drop off. The idea is to put this debt on the back-end and make Moorestown’s debt a constant moving forward. He said progressively renewing the district’s debt helps keep it stable over time.

“Having debt is not a bad thing for a school district,” Garrison said.

Moorestown Education Association President Lisa Trapani asked what the next steps of the referendum are following the presentation. McCartney explained that at the board’s March meeting, they will ask the board if they want to proceed and begin preparing for the referendum.

The next Moorestown Township Board of Education meeting will take place at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, March 19 in the Media Center of William Allen Middle School.