Regional School District officials push for vote to expansions
Officials from the Kingsway Regional School District are spending a lot of time and energy campaigning as voters in four towns East Greenwich, South Harrison, Swedesboro and Woolwich prepare to go to the polls on Dec. 14.
The district's voters will weigh in on a bond referendum that could bring expansions to the district's two schools.
Superintendent Jim Lavender has held meetings with parent groups, senior groups and homeowner associations in each of the towns, in addition to the district's sending newsletters and putting as much information on its website as possible.
"Our goal is to communicate the facts and give people the most important information," Lavender said.
The Kingsway district is home to some of the fastest growing communities in New Jersey. Officials say an expansion of facilities is needed to accommodate an increasing number of students. Currently, the two schools house 2,300 students. A recent demographic study estimates that enrollment at the middle school will be 1,124 and the high school will be at 2,041 by the year 2014.
"The most important thing is we have enrollment growth which requires an expansion of our facilities," said board of education President Mark Kehoe. "There's no discretion here, it has to be done."
The proposed $31.1 million construction plan includes more than a dozen new classrooms at each school, as well as cafeterias, gymnasiums and offices. There is a presentation from the project architect on the district's website which details exactly what will be added, what will be renovated and the cost of each school's projects.
If the project is approved, the state has indicated it will pay the district $8.4 million toward the total costs, leaving the remaining $22.6 million to be absorbed by the taxpayers.
In East Greenwich, the annual tax impact on the average assessed home of $169,460 will be $157.01. In South Harrison, the annual tax impact on the average assessed home of $352,887 will be $175.49. In Swedesboro, the annual tax impact on the average assessed home of $96,105 will be $112.81. In Woolwich, the annual tax impact on the average assessed home of $181,402 will be $154.26.
In this tough economic climate, many observers regard a referendum that will increase taxes as an uphill battle, especially among seniors who are already on fixed incomes and whose children are grown.
"I think what's going to happen if the referendum is passed is the seniors will be upset because their taxes are going to go up," said Louis Marshall, chairman of the East Greenwich Commission on Senior Services.
East Greenwich is a special case among the four municipalities because the elementary district there is trying to pass its own referendum for expansions to its two schools. If both referendums pass, taxpayers in East Greenwich will be hit twice. School officials say that, although it may be tough, it is necessary, and the entire community is responsible for maintaining the schools.
"I recognize times are difficult, but our education system has been funded throughout the years by everybody in the community," Kehoe said. "Generationally, you go through this you pay taxes when your kids are in the schools and then you pay them for the next generation."
Whether or not the Kingsway referendum is passed, district officials said there will eventually be an increased cost due to the ever-increasing enrollment. But according to Lavender, when that time comes there will not be $8 million available from the state to help fund the project.
"We have the opportunity to take full advantage of state grant money," Lavender said. "We know all of these kids are seated in a classroom today. If we don't build now, we're going to spend a lot more down the line."
Community information sessions about the referendum will be held Tuesday at 7 p.m. in the multi-purpose room of the Stratton School and Dec. 7 at 7 p.m. in the Eitel Theatre at Kingsway.
Polls will be open from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. on the day of the election. More information about the referendum can be found online at www.kingsway.k12.nj.us.