What Monroe taxpayers would get from referendum that could reach $146M

BY Christopher Lang, Correspondent, @topherlang2, MonroeNow, March 11, 2019

MONROE – Education leaders are hoping that the public will support a referendum proposal March 12 that could cost taxpayers up to $146.1 million.

It is the most expensive referendum the district administration has proposed in more than 20 years. The reason for such a proposal, district leaders said, is to deal with growing enrollment that impacts both the middle and high schools.

While several have reasonably questioned why a new school would cost more than $75 million and an addition comes in at $71 million, it is also fair to note that both projects would house approximately 1,000 students each.

So, what would a $146.1 million referendum get the taxpayers? Let’s take a look.

Second Middle School

PRICE TAG: $75.6 million
DEBT SERVICE AID: $7.5 million
CAPACITY: 1,000 students
SIZE: 152,315 square feet

The township has one middle school that serves approximately 1,700 students in regular and temporary classrooms. The school is exceeding its capacity.

The proposed middle school would mirror all the programs and amenities that are at the current middle school, with the only difference being it’s a new building.

The new middle school would be built on a 35-acre lot that is currently a golf range on Applegarth Road, which the township seized at the request of the board of education through eminent domain in 2017.   More stories about the $146.1M referendum

The building would include three stories for administrative and instructional-related programs.

The first floor would include administrative offices, art classrooms, auditorium, band room, cafeteria with a kitchen, 10 classrooms, culinary arts instruction, faculty dining and work area, main and auxiliary gym with locker rooms, materials technology lab, media center, three resource classrooms, two science labs and preparation rooms, two self-containing special education and vocal music.

The second and third levels will have 10 classrooms, three resource rooms, two science labs and preparation rooms and two self-containing special education rooms. The difference between these two floors is the second will have a supervisory office and the third level will house the vice principal’s office.

“Not only will this accommodate the growing number of students up to 2,000 alone at the middle school level in a 10-year period from now, but it will accommodate them in a fashion that Monroe has been accustomed to by having parody in both schools,” said Business Administrator Michael Gorski. “There will be more programming opportunities for students because of the two [middle] school concept. There will be more availability on sports and clubs and electives.”

High School Addition

PRICE TAG: $71.1 million
DEBT SERVICE AID: $11.5 million
CAPACITY: 1,000 students
SIZE: 129,657 square feet

Similar to the middle school, the high school is over capacity. The current enrollment is 2,329, while the building capacity is 1,800 students. Through space conversions, the district has managed to accommodate the students.

The three-story addition would be built behind, but attached to the high school and would cover a portion of a field that’s in the area near the back part of the access road.

The first floor would make additions and some renovations to parts of the building. The plan calls for storage and office spaces, five classrooms, auxiliary gymnasium with locker rooms, physical education courtyard, resource room, two science labs and a science prep room, three engineering labs, a cafeteria with serving area and a music classroom, which would actually added near the performing arts center.

The second floor would have 12 classrooms, CST suite, green roof, resource room, two science labs with prep room, science resource room and four special education classrooms.

The third floor would have 13 classrooms, CST suite, resource room, two science labs with a prep room and four special education classrooms.

“We believe that we will be in very good shape with our projected high school population and with the two middle school model,” said acting Superintendent Robert Goodall. “We have room for growth and we have two really good equitable programs at these two middle schools and will have the two middle schools feeding the high school.”

Decision time

Township residents can vote on March 12 between 7 a.m. and 8 p.m. at their designated polling locations. 

The proposal is a two-part question asking voters if they want to build a new middle school and high school addition. However, the high school addition vote is only considered if the middle school is approved. 

Administration and board officials recognize that they are asking a lot of money from taxpayers, however they also noted that if the referendum fails again this year it will only increase in total value next time the plan is proposed. 

As an example they cited the $68.8 million cost for the middle school project in 2018 that failed at the polls, with that same proposal costing $75.6 million this time. 

“That fact is clear, we’ve demonstrated that through our PowerPoint slides how our previous defeats have costs this district millions of dollars,” Gorski said. “We’ve reached what we are able to absorb in the general fund budget as far as maintaining all of the programs and services that parents enjoy. If we have to continue to rent trailers it’s going to cut into teacher-student ratio. It’s going to cut into transportation. It’s going to cut into a lot of areas that this board of previous boards have worked so hard to create for students and the community.” 

If approved, the middle school would open in September 2022 and the addition in December 2022.  

The individual financial impact for both projects is $92.76 per $100,000 of assessed land value. For a $300,000 assessed home that means an additional $278 per year on top of any budget increases. For a home assessed at $500,000, the owner will pay $463 per year until the debt is paid off.

For the middle school portion, the individual tax impact is $48.81 per $100,000 of assessed value. For a home assessed at $300,000 it means $146 more per year, and at $500,000 the yearly increase is $244.

For more information about the district’s referendum, visit referendum.monroe.k12.nj.us/.