Board approves December special election

The date has officially been set. In addition to the hustle and bustle of the holiday season, Moorestown residents now have one more item to add to their to-do list this December: vote in the Dec. 10 special election.

The Moorestown Township Board of Education approved the Dec. 10 special election date at last Tuesday’s board meeting. The board did not vote on the wording for the questions or the dollar amounts that will be put forth to the public. 

The district’s architect, Robert Garrison of Garrison Architects, arrived at Tuesday night’s meeting with approvals from the state Department of Education for proposed work at George C. Baker Elementary School, Mary E. Roberts Elementary School, South Valley Elementary School and the administration building. He said he was pleased to announce that all of those projects were approved with the 40 percent state share that he’d estimated.

Garrison said the projects at William Allen Middle School and Moorestown High School are more costly, and for that reason, they’ve taken a bit of additional time to negotiate with NJDOE and other entities about the costs. He said he was on the phone with NJDOE on Tuesday, Sept. 17, and he was verbally informed that it was willing to fund new construction costs of additional classrooms at WAMS – an expense they’d previously anticipated would not receive any state aid. 

Garrison said he’s still waiting to have this confirmed in writing, but this could mean a lower cost to the taxpayer. 

“That’s hundreds of thousands of dollars more in state aid than I had [forecast] in my original presentation therefore driving down that number to the taxpayer,” Garrison said.

Burlington County has also mandated that the next time district does any construction work at MHS, it make Bridgeboro Road’s walkways ADA compliant. For that reason, the district must build an eight-foot-wide path to bring the road up to code that will come at an estimated $1.6 million cost to taxpayers. Garrison said the district’s engineers have been meeting with the Burlington County Freeholders seeking some sort of contribution from them.

“The board will be relentless in pursuing other monies to try minimize that $1.6 million investment,” Garrison said. 

As of the August board meeting, the board was looking at a first question encompassing $22.8 million in updates to all schools in the district. The local tax impact would be around $136.46 for the average assessed home valued at $454,032. The second question would include an additional $3.3 million in updates, which would have an additional local tax impact of $27.02 per year on top of the $136.46, if approved. These numbers are now subject to change given the DOE’s and freeholders’ additional potential contributions.

The board voted almost unanimously in favor of the Dec. 10, with Board Member Mark Villanueva as the sole “no” vote. Villanueva expressed an array of concerns, one of the prominent ones being voter turnout. He said the district’s bond counsel has stated that special elections typically have higher success rates at getting a referendum passed than when the vote takes place during the general election.

“We need to get full voter participation,” Villanueva said.

He also took issue with the “marketing materials” the district is distributing that he said are one-sided and paint a picture of “doom and gloom” if the referendum isn’t passed.

Board President Sandra Alberti said there’s not a single board member who wants to pass a referendum that’s not supported by the community. She said, in her eyes, their goal is to engage the community to vote – whatever that vote may be. 

“I think that the perception that this board is intentionally moving this into December for any reason other than to reexamine our expenses on it, to submit plans – I think rears into opinion and not fact,” Alberti said.

The next meeting of the Moorestown Board of Education will take place on Tuesday, Oct. 15 at 7 p.m. in William Allen Middle School. To view the district’s full bond referendum presentation, visit http://www.mtps.com/referendum. Anyone with questions about the referendum can email mtpsreferendum@mtps.com.