The approvals followed a presentation with information for the community about the board’s work in recent months. Board member John Schmus discussed the two topics, long requested by the community to enhance and improve the education system in Voorhees.
Superintendent David Gentile gave a presentation to the board in October of 2019, informing members of his desire to see full-day preschool and full-day kindergarten in the township. With a feasibility study approved at that October session, the board has since had a committee evaluate the district’s current capabilities and what more would be needed to make the changes.
The 2019 meeting was the last time the two topics were discussed publicly during a board session until recently. At the November meeting, Schmus said during his presentation that the evaluating committee, after its work, believes it’s time to implement full-day kindergarten and that the district is able to direct the necessary funds to the appropriate places, while at the same time addressing overcrowding issues at Osage Elementary School.
According to his presentation, Schmus said the committee recommended reassigning about 125 Osage students to E.T. Hamilton and Kresson elementary schools for the upcoming school year.
Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum and Instruction Diane Young said during the meeting that the district plans to reach out to parents of the students expected to be reassigned after the board’s approval of the plan.
Young said the district currently plans to reassign approximately 115 Osage students from the densely populated Franklin Avenue area to E.T. Hamilton, while reassigning approximately 27 Osage students who live along county-named streets to Kresson.
She added that those selections were made while also keeping in mind student transportation and diversity at each school building’s grade levels. The evaluating committee also reviewed the feasibility of full-day kindergarten, ultimately recommending it for the next school year.
“We have heard you; we’ve heard the parents, we’ve heard everyone in Voorhees for a long time now and the committee believes it’s time to move forward with this,” Schmus noted. “We’re very excited for this opportunity and to offer this to our students moving forward.”
Schmus added that the district’s plan includes using existing classrooms in elementary-school buildings, pending approval of increased temporary toilet-room waivers.
Ultimately, the district wants to build a kindergarten center at Kresson for students from the entire district for the start of the 2022-2023 school year. According to Business Administrator Helen Haley after the presentation, the district anticipates the kindergarten center project to cost between $4.4 and $4.8 million, including construction, technology and furniture.
“As we looked at construction, we believe that there’s no way we could get this done any sooner for it to be a permanent placement for all of our kids,” Schmus advised. “We will be building 10 classrooms, for a total of 15 classrooms at Kresson Elementary School, with bathrooms that will meet all the state requirements for kindergarten bathrooms. The project will be completed and ready to go for the September 2022 school opening.”
According to Haley, the project, approved by the board along with other motions to assist moving forward with full-day kindergarten, will not cause an increase in taxes, since the district plans to fund it through other measures.
“We have capital reserve that we can use and surplus from this year that we can as well,” Haley explained. “As part of this motion, we would be adding the project to our long-range facilities plan, and you can fund capital reserve with up to 60 percent of that.
“Right now,” she added, “we have more than enough money in our capital reserve fund, so we could do this whole project with that. But we’ll probably split it up and do the project, some with this money and some with our surplus.”
Haley also said the kindergarten project will not pile up any debt for the township, since it will be paid for entirely through capital reserve and its surplus.
Also during the meeting, the board recognized the official board of election results from November. Marissa Levy won reelection to her seat, receiving 20.72 percent of the vote, while Kelly Cosenza and Jason Brice Sr. were elected to the board, with 19.97 and 17.20 percent of the vote, respectively.
The board will next meet on Wednesday, Jan. 6, for its member reorganization, the first session of the 2021 calendar year. It will have a regularly scheduled meeting on Wednesday, Jan. 27.