Debate Continues Over School Referendum
Board members doubt voters would approve school spending request
School board members debated at a meeting this week whether Brick residents would vote in favor of a referendum aimed at improving school facilities in town.
The board will eventually have to decide whether a referendum is necessary – or feasible – to complete a number of improvement projects at township school buildings, ranging from new boilers and chillers to new windows and other building features. Board members can chance floating a referendum to fund such projects, which would have to be approved by voters, or go forward with an Energy Saving Improvement Program, or ESIP, which would not require a referendum or large capital outay.
Board President Sharon Kight has explained that under the ESIP program, a company that would install, for example, a boiler, might pay upfront costs, with the district paying back the company based on the difference in utility bills. Companies participating in the ESIP program guarantee school districts that even if money is not saved, the company will take the loss rather than the district. Effectively, the energy savings pays for the new equipment over the course of a maximum of 15 years, according to program regulations.
A referendum would require a taxpayer-funded share of $11 million to complete about $19 million of construction work. The state would pick up the remainder of the cost through Regular Operating District, or ROD, grants.
Jim Edwards, the district's business administrator, said from a business perspective, more money could be saved by funding projects through a referendum since energy savings could be realized after a fewer number of years, but it could be difficult to get voters on board. Edwards estimated referendum boding could be paid back in seven years, rather than the 15 it would take to realize savings from the ESIP program.
"The payback is quicker because the state is paying for 40 percent of the ROD grants. Is it worth going out for a referendum? Would the community support it? I guess you'll have to go through that in your heads and see," Edwards told board members.
"A referendum, as you all know, is definitely the biggest con to doing the ROD grants," he said.
Board vice president John Talty said he had his doubts about whether a referendum would pass.
"In my opinion, I don't think this town would support a referendum," he said. "If you put it out there, and it [doesn't pass], you're just behind."
Board member Larry Reid agreed.
"Maybe it's more efficient to buy the car, but if you don't have the money, you have to lease it," he said. "If you think people are going to come up with another $11 million they don't have, forget it. People aren't saying, 'tack it on, we need new taxes.'"
Board member Kim Terebush said that both paths should be investigated as the board continues on toward a final decision.
"I keep hearing … why are the schools in such bad shape and what are we doing about it?" she said. "The possibility of the payback from the seven years out can help us take the money we would've put out and utilize that in another direction."
Kight directed Edwards to continue work on a bid request for work on a project with ESIP funding. No decision was made on holding a referendum.