$57 million referendum set for Dec. 9
Bond intended to fund new school constriction

Article published Wednesday, December 1, 2008

The Edison School District is gearing up for a Dec. 9 referendum that, if approved by the voters, would build a new elementary school and greatly expand four already existing ones.

A resolution passed by the district's Board of Education during its regular Nov. 24 action meeting formalized the schools' intention to hold a referendum on a $57 million bond measure. The vote will take place Dec. 9 from noon to 9 p.m. Previous conversations with members of the board revealed that the costs of holding a special election will run around $50,000.

The bond, if approved by voters, would pay for expansions to three of the township's elementary schools Woodbrook, Benjamin Franklin and James Madison and build a whole new one near Thomas Jefferson Middle School to a design by Garrison Architects of Mt. Laurel. Overall, the construction would add capacity for 1,186 new elementary school students.

Board members have said that the project would be tax neutral because it was predicated on bringing special-education students for whom the district currently pays other districts to have educated in their schools back to Edison. The savings from not having to pay tuition and busing costs, it was reasoned, would offset the debt incurred by the bond. It was argued that the bond was direly needed to accommodate all the students coming into the district.

This is the second time the district is attempting to get public approval for this multimillion dollar measure. It was first proposed to voters during last April's school elections, but was rejected 3,983 to 3,644. Board newcomers Gene Maeroff and Aimee Szilagyi, when running during that election, had publicly opposed the bond, citing concern over what they perceived to be a lack of public input over its construction. They have since begun to support the bond, saying that the process became much more open and the plan much clearer.

In July, the board decided to try running the bond again, with no changes to the school plans; board members at the time said doing so would present an unacceptably long bureaucratic delay with the state government.

A unanimous vote by the board set the initial date for the referendum on Sept. 30, which prompted an extremely strong reaction from the area's Jewish community, because the vote coincided with Rosh Hashana, which would preclude them from voting at the polls. While the district suggested that they could vote by absentee ballot, the community cited the historically low voter turnout of such ballots as a reason why that solution would not work.

Board members resisted changing the date at first, saying that the law allowed only four specific dates for a special school election and that the next closest date, Dec. 9, would cause too great a delay for the measure, which they said needed to be passed as soon as possible. While unfortunate, said school officials at the time, state law prevented them from moving the date one day earlier or later than the Sept. 30 date.

Pressure from Jewish groups continued, however, with representatives from other faiths soon joining the chorus. In addition, residents began reaching out to state legislators and demanding changes in state regulations to prevent this sort of electoral difficulty from happening in the future.

By the end of August, the board agreed to change the referendum's date to its current Dec. 9 date by unanimous vote. Interested voters can find out which of the 27 polling locations they need to go to by calling the township clerk's office.



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