$16.1 million referendum on tap for Edgewater Park schools

Burlington County Times on November 26, 2015
BySean Patrick Murphy, Staff Writer

EDGEWATER PARK-   The school district is seeking $16.1 million for extensive renovations at its three schools through a referendum on Jan. 26.

The proposed upgrades to the schools, which are between 45 and 60 years old, appear to have community support following a presentation by Bob Garrison, of Garrison Architects in Evesham, at Tuesday night's Board of Education meeting.

 

Edgewater Park Schools
Edgewater Park Superintendent of Schools Roy Rakszawski shows the proposed changes to schools in the district should the $16.1 million referendum pass on Jan 26.

The work would include site improvements, new roofs, enhanced security, mechanical and electrical system upgrades, new air conditioning, new fire alarm system, new interior doors and frames, and interior renovations to the Jacques Elementary School ($4,896,531), Magowan Elementary School ($5,535,219) and Samuel Ridgway Middle School ($5,737,458).

"Although there have been partial renovations over the years, nothing of this magnitude has been done here before," Superintendent Roy Rakszawski said. "Of the district's three boilers, two are original. The third was replaced approximately 20 years ago." Also, the nurse’s suite at Magowan would be renovated, and the main office, nurse’s suite and library would be renovated at Ridgway.

The state will reimburse the district for about 50 percent of the cost of all the projects approved as part of a debt service aid program. The total amount on which the public will vote is $16,169,208. The state would reimburse the district $8,083,588. If the referendum is approved, it would raise the local school tax rate by about 10 cents per $100 of assessed value. The owner of a home assessed at the township average of $192,748 would pay about $193 more in school taxes, according to a tax impact calculator posted on the school district's website.

At Tuesday's meeting, the superintendent focused on increased security and updated fire alarms at the schools. "The concept of school security has dramatically changed over the last 15 years," Rakszawski said. "The upgrades to our school entrances and classroom doors will allow us to align with modern security protocols."

Despite some concerns, residents were optimistic about the referendum. Lifelong resident Nicole Glawson, 41, said she was concerned about where the money is coming from and who will be doing the work. "(The architect) gave me all the information I'm going to need to keep an eye on it and follow it," she said.

MaryAnn Giannetto, a 40-year resident, was also impressed and supports the improvements. "He did a really good job explaining it, and I really feel all of our schools need this," she said. "Our schools are old, the buildings are run-down, we need more security, so I'm hoping it passes in January." Giannetto said her children went through the public school system and now her grandchildren are in it. "Of course, I want the best for them," she said.

Linda Raymond is a 25-year resident with a son in seventh grade. "I think he made a good case," she said of Garrison. "I think the schools are somewhat outdated and do need to come up to code." But Raymond also has some concerns. "I don't know that I agree with 100 percent of what they're asking for," she said. "They're lacking in books, and they're lacking in some curriculum things. That to me should be at the forefront."

The referendum is part of a strategic plan hammered out this year by a committee made up of parents, administrators and staff members. Rakszawski said last year the administration got the blessing from the school board to create a five-year plan, with five goal areas: technology, finance and facilities, staff, curriculum and students. Among the many objectives in technology is expanding its use in all curriculum areas. Included in the finance and facilities objectives is passing the bond referendum for capital improvements. Staff goals involve increasing district pride through a comprehensive public relations program. Under curriculum, one of the objectives is increasing science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) learning activities. For the students, an objective is establishing a district community service program. The strategic plan was formally approved by the school board in September and will go into effect in January.

Annie Steele, who has one child in kindergarten and another in seventh grade, was part of the finance and facilities implementation team and thinks the goals are attainable in part because all the participants support them. "The collaborative part of it has been pretty impressive," she said. "It's been an interesting process." Lester Holley, school board president, also served on the finance and facilities team and was "very excited by the process." Holley was also pleased to see representation from everyone in the community.

Ron Trampe, middle school principal, was a member of the student committee. "It's been a fabulous process," Trampe said. "It solidifies a lot of the good stuff we know we're already doing. It gets everybody to view where we want to go in the future." Trampe said reaching out to parents has been "fantastic." "We get caught looking inside at four walls" and not soliciting input from the community. John Lestino, a school psychologist and another representative on the student implementation team, learned that it is a truly collaborative process. "We're very interested in how we look at mindset, how do we help youngsters be resilient, have grit, make sure that they're involved in this process," Lestino said. "That is not only forward-thinking but will be useful when we're working with the kids."

The superintendent said he's been pleased by the work of the strategic plan's implementation teams. "The result that we have is greater than the sum of its parts," he said. "It nicely illustrates the power of building consensus."

Rakszawski said the plan calls for continual improvement. "This process never ends," he said.

 

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