Kingsway and East Greenwich referendums aim to allow expansion plans to move forward in burgeoning school districts


Published: Monday, July 25, 2011, 4:00 AM
By Rebecca Forand/Gloucester County Times Gloucester County Times

Voters in both the Kingsway Regional and East Greenwich school districts will be asked to return to the polls this September to vote on referendum proposals to expand each respective district's schools.

Both districts have experienced exponential growth in the past few years and have received state grants to contribute to the expansion of their schools. But, they need the approval of the voters to pay for the remainder of the projects - attempts that have been unsuccessful in the past year.

East Greenwich put its school project on the ballot twice in the past year - once in September and again in January. The total project would cost $25.4 million, of which $7 million would have been covered by the state grant. In December Kingsway asked the voters in its four sending districts - which includes East Greenwich - to approve a $31.1 million project, of which $8.4 million would have been covered by the state grant.

The state grants expire in February 2012, and the original caveat of the funds was that each district sticks with the architectural plans they had submitted to achieve them. However, with a resounding number of communities throughout the state defeating the referendums last year, the state reconsidered its position and is allowing some minor cutbacks to allow districts to offer their voters an option.

"After the last devastating defeat we had to step back and do some analysis," said Bob Garrison, the architect working on East Greenwich's project. "I went up to the Department of Education and they said with the failure rates they're seeing, if a district comes to us with a creative solution...something is better than nothing."

In light of the state's decision, East Greenwich's school board has decided to split their referendum into two questions, giving the voters a choice of what they believe might be most important or necessary to the schools.

The first question will include new classrooms in both the Samuel Mickle and the Jeffrey Clark school, with the second question including construction of new office spaces, new canopies on the buildings and a public space expansion, which would include a stage.

"We did go back and look at the design and change it so it will be more of an alteration to what was presented the last two times," said East Greenwich Superintendent Joseph Conroy. "We're giving the voters the choice of not only the basic (expansion) but also the second question of the office space and the public space."

In the original plan the referendum would have cost the owner of a home assessed at the town's average of $176,500 an additional $228 per year, which will be the same if both questions are passed.

The first question represents approximately $200 for the average homeowner, and the second question would be the additional $28.

The Board of Education believes that no matter what, something needs to be done. The population of the town has grown by more than 4,000 people over the past 10 years, according to the US census, with a majority of the newcomers being families with young children that will be entering the education system in the coming years.

"We have an actual head count of 830 kids under five here now," Conroy said. "If this doesn't pass, regardless, we are going to have half day kindergarten. We'll need the space and we'll need the teachers," added Board of Education President Adele Gallager.

Down the road at Kingsway Regional, the school board has decided to keep its original plans in tact, citing that the growth the district is experiencing calls for a drastic addition to classroom space. Students from East Greenwich and Woolwich Township - two of the state's fastest growing communities - file into Kingsway for middle and high school, as well as students from Logan Township, Swedesboro and South Harrison Township.

The two schools currently house about 2,300 students, with a recent demographic study estimating the population to reach 1,124 in the middle school and 2,041 in the high school by 2014.

"This project is primarily classrooms," said Superintendent Jim Lavender. "We have so many kids en route to Kingsway. The hallways are packed. It's mission critical that we expand this campus."

In addition to the 41 new classrooms, the project includes expansions of cafeterias and gymnasiums to hold the greater number of students.

If approved, the referendum will have an annual tax impact of $157.01 on the average homeowner in East Greenwich. 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.

Both districts have decided to go out for their referendums together in order to reduce election costs, as well as to get the greatest number of affected voters to the polls.

"It will be more cost effective if we have both issues together and would involve a greater participation in the community," Conroy said.

The referendums will be held Sept. 27.

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