Pennsauken School District Holds First Public Meeting On March 13 Bond Referendum

by Frank Sinatra, AAP Editor, January 8, 2018

PENNSAUKEN — Last month, the Pennsauken School District held a packed town hall meeting to share information about the upcoming bond referendum designed to make significant improvements to every public school throughout the Township.

During the “Taste of Pennsauken” event, held at the PYAA Field House on Dec. 8, residents enjoyed food from a variety of local restaurants and learned about the proposed initiative, which will allocate almost $36 million for various projects, while actually reducing school taxes for Pennsauken households.

Pennsauken Public Meeting on Bond Referendum

“In the past, Pennsauken has served about 5,500 students. We currently serve under 5,000 students. A plan of action needs to be put in place to make sure that Pennsauken has a future, not just for teachers, not just for students, but for the town itself,” explains Dr. Ronnie Tarchichi, superintendent, Pennsauken School District. “We have a full plan that touches on every school in the District.”

The proposed referendum addresses a variety of projects in every part of the District, including new security vestibules at all schools; capital improvement to elementary schools with new windows and doors; the establishment of all-day pre-school; the demolition of an aging Longfellow Elementary and the erection of a comprehensive community park and playground in the school’s old footprint; the addition of three new science labs and six additional classrooms at Phifer Middle School; the transformation of Roosevelt Elementary into a high-tech magnet high school, with the addition of a brand new gymnasium; and extensive renovations at Pennsauken High School, with improvement being made to the auditorium, library, locker rooms, and gymnasium; and construction of a plumbing lab. The proposal also adds significant improvements to the high school that will benefit the student-athlete. Plans call for the building of a brand new, state-of-the-art field house, new tennis courts, and an all purpose turf field, lights, and an eight-lane track.

“We have Pennsauken kids at Woodrow Wilson, Camden High, Paul VI, Camden Catholic, Cherry Hill West, and Bishop Eustace. We have kids all over that should be in our building, and some of them are our better kids,” explains Coach Clinton Tabb, Pennsauken High School. “If we can get those kids to stay, all the teams, not just football, field hockey, soccer, track, will benefit all across the board.”

In addition to the overall performance of a more connected student body, Pennsauken residents will also benefit from the improved facilities. The park at the Longfellow site would be accessible to the local neighborhood and include a playground, walking path, gazebo, and pickleball courts. The high school track will be open to the community for walking; and the new field house and Roosevelt’s gym will be available for local use. In addition, the proposed turf, multi-purpose field at the high school would also be available for youth football, soccer, and other tournaments, as well as band competitions under the lights.

The timing of this referendum couldn’t be more beneficial, according to District officials. With the retirement of the bond debt from the building of Fine, Delair, and Intermediate schools, the proposed bond referendum will actually reduce school taxes. For example, a resident with an assessed home of approximately $140,000 will see a reduction of $11.06; these savings take into account both the comprehensive improvements and the District’s regular operating budget.

Dr. Tarchichi explained how state aid plays a role in these savings.

“From what you can see from the numbers is that there is a state share and a local share. Because this is a public school program, the state picks up a share of the program. The local share is what we put in with our taxes,” explains Tarchichi. “It’s important to note that 63.25 percent of the costs of many of these projects in the referendum are eligible for that state share,” adds Robert N. Garrison, Jr. of Garrison Architects, a company that has done work for a variety of successful education-based bond referendums, including schools in Manasquan, Edgewater Park, Lower Cape May Regional, and Paulsboro. “It’s almost like the residents and the Board of Education go back up to Trenton and take some of your hard earned tax dollars and bring them back to your community. And that’s what so special about bond referendums.”

About half of those in attendance filled out surveys at the end of the event, which provided important feedback about the presentation. After tallying the responses, a total of 78 percent state they were in favor of the bond referendum. Of those surveyed who had children in the school district, not one person said they were against the bond referendum. A large majority of surveyed participants favored all of the improvements proposed.

Announcing The Rick Taylor Field House

In addition to learning in detail about the proposed plans and the opportunity to ask questions about the initiative, the Pennsauken School District took the opportunity to recognize Rick Taylor, a member of Pennsauken Township Committee and a longtime educator who has made a significant impact for generations of Pennsauken students. Mr. Taylor was on hand with family and friends as the District announced a very special surprise.

“The Board has been talking for a long time to figure out how to best recognize the service of Mr. Taylor and all the sacrifices he has made. We’re going to name the field house the “’Rick Taylor Field House,’” says Billy Snyder, a teacher at Pennsauken High School. “So a one-of-a-kind field house will be named after a one-of-a-kind man who has served this community.”

Taylor was also surprised by a very special congratulatory video from his son, Scott, who lives in California. “You’ve been serving our town for over 50 years. You didn’t do it for the accolades; you did it because you genuinely love the people of Pennsauken,” explains Scott. “We celebrate your sacrifice and dedication to Pennsauken and I love you and I’m so proud of you.”

“Thank you very much. I’m humbled,” says Rick Taylor. “I’m just counting my blessings. To have been able to work in the School District for 42 years and seeing some of the products that have come out, our students; that’s what a teacher’s bonus is. And having been able to serve you in an elected capacity for 22 years, I’m proud of that.” “I’m certainly excited to see [the referendum],” added Taylor. “Dr. T is taking us in a new direction. I hope everyone in this room is excited about it and passes the word.”

Next Opportunities To Learn About The Referendum

On Monday, Jan. 15, 6:30 p.m., the Pennsauken School District will host a meeting at Longfellow Elementary School, 1400 Forrest Ave., Pennsauken, to discuss the proposed initiative and Longfellow Park.

On Sunday, Jan. 28, members of the Pennsauken community have an additional opportunity to not only tour Pennsauken High School, located at 800 Hylton Rd., but also learn about the upcoming bond referendum vote slated for March 13. The high school’s open house begins at 2:00 p.m.; and the referendum presentation starts at 4:00 p.m.

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