Parents at the February 7th Board Of Education (BOE) meeting asked questions and shared their concerns over changes to the district’s pre-school program. The BOE stated that, due rising rental costs, they have proposed moving the program from its current location at the John Adase Early Childhood Center on the corner of Laurel Avenue and West Webster Avenue to trailers that will be located at the Roselle Park High School (RPHS) in September of this year.
During the meeting, BOE member Loren Harms, who is the Facilities Chair, read the following prepared statement:
The Roselle Park School District is always looking to improve student learning and experiences and maintaining student safety while, at the same time, being fiscally responsible. On tonight’s agenda, you will see two resolutions impacting our facilities. I would like to inform the public on both of these agenda items.
The roof is leaking at the middle school. It has been for a while. We’re putting up bids to get the project done . . . after school is out in June.
As you may already know, the board is in its final year of the lease agreement at the John Adase Early Childhood Center. Due to the rising rental costs, the board has decided to move into temporary modular classrooms while planning a permanent home for the Early Childhood Center. The board understands that a pre-school is a necessity and therefore will do everything to maintain the integrity [and] the quality of the program. However, the board is also looking ahead to the future and looking for ways to become more efficient and fiscally responsible. Therefore, the board is working on an ad hoc committee to receive recommendations for future planning. We will continue to update the public as the board moves closer to formulate a replacement.
The board is always looking to improve the student’s school experience and will continue to work to accomplish that.
Mr. Harms made it clear later on in the meeting that the pre-k program would be available only to those children who were legally allowed to have the program for the purposes of special education. The tuition-based component of the Early Childhood Center (ECC) would not be available during the temporary placement of students into modular units, as they were called. He also stated that the board was formally requesting permission from the County and State to allow the temporary placement.
School Superintendent Pedro Garrido added, “The state will not approve anything that [doesn’t] follow very strict requirements. So whatever those requirements are, we have to follow.”
“Is there any way for us to have any idea what type of modular classrooms that are offering these state services?” asked Josiah Haken, a parent of two pre=school children, “Forgive me for being just a smidge skeptical when you say it’s going to be the same. I’m picturing the playground, I’m picturing the bathrooms.”
Mr. Harms responded, “Playgrounds are going to be there. The bathrooms are going to be there. The teachers are going to be there.”
“Is there a way to see in advance what these things look like?” asked Mr. Haken.
Mr. Garrido replied, “Our plan is to have some kind of orientation with the parents as soon as put them up.”
Board President Chris Miller further stated, “I understand your concerns. Every step along the way we want to be transparent – let you know, let you see the plans and see what’s going on because it’s your children and it’s very important to us as well. This is change. Change can be uncomfortable sometimes.”
Other concerns mentioned by parents included whether the trailers would implement IDEA and other legal requirements adequately, whether talks with John Adase – the property owner – were ended, where lunch and restroom facilities would be accommodated, if consideration had been given to the possible increase in requests for mediation regarding Individual Education Plans (IEPs) and associated costs, and how long the temporary placement was going to be.
The response regarding the temporary modular units by the superintendent was that the law only allows for such accommodation for up to two years.
Chelsea Haken asked, “What is the biggest issue for not staying in this building? Because this building it’s beautiful . . . These teachers are phenomenal. The program you have is phenomenal and I find it hard to believe that in a modular home kids are going to get the same sort of teaching.”
Mr. Garrido stated that the overall plan is to give students more of an opportunity than they have now, adding, “We have to have a transitional period and unfortunately it impacts the children that are there now and that are coming next year.”
In response to a question regarding the current location and the associated costs, BOE member Troy Gerten said, “Not many school districts lease buildings and when we went outside for outside counsel to get some of the specifications of real estate pricing per square foot for leases . . . [school districts] are not in the business of leasing properties. I can’t answer for why ten years ago it wasn’t purchased. Currently, we’ve been negotiating for 10 plus years on that property.”
He continued, “I don’t want the impression to be that this is something the board started doing in January. It’s been going on the better part, in earnest, for, at least, the last nine months with real sit-down meetings with the landlord . . . At the end of the day it all comes down to – as Mr. Harms was saying – there’s a fiduciary responsibility to the taxpayers of Roselle Park. This is a necessary first step.”
Another parent, Nicole Motley, asked “What is the cost difference between leasing the building for another two years and losing the tuition children versus renting these modular buildings? Is it more cost-effective to lease it for two years and keep the tuition-based children? It’s something to look into.”
She also wanted to know if a tuition-based option would be available for the second half of the day for IEP students who only went half a day.
In speaking with John Adase, the property owner of ECC, he provided information on the negotiations.
Mr. Adase provided a letter from the BOE dated December 10, 2016, that stated:
Please accept this letter as written notice that the Roselle Park Board of Education will not be renewing the lease on the property at 258 West Webster Avenue for July 1, 2017. If you have any questions regarding the above matter, please contact me.
Mr. Adase said that the original agreement between himself and the BOE was to have three (3) five-year lease periods with an option to buy after 15 years. The property was originally built in 2006 and the monthly rent started at $9,000 a month. The second year of the original contract jumped 10% and remained at the level until the 2010-2011 school year when it increased another 10% to $10,890.00. The first five-year lease cost the school district $595,080.
The first two school years of the second lease period (2011-13) had rent stay at $130,680.00 a year. The final three years of the second lease maintained a 2% increase. The second lease period cost the district $669,300.00.
The district negotiated a one-year extension with Mr. Adase while negotiations continued. It was after the December 10th letter and when the BOE placed the rental of the modular units on the agenda that Mr. Adase sent the district another proposal.
In a letter dated February 6, 2017, a day before the February BOE meeting, Mr. Adase proposed the following:
- Shorten the final lease period from five (5) years to two (2) years with an option to purchase;
- Offer to sell the property for $1.4 million after that time;
- Reduce the monthly rent by $1,347 from $11,557 to $10,183 for a total decrease of $16,488
- Have a triple net lease where the district pays the amount of increase in the property taxes due to the townwide revaluation. Property taxes went from $16,116 to $32,309.
As the letter was sent right before the BOE meeting, the board has not had a chance to review the offer but if the property is purchased by the district, the $1.4 million will most likely go on a referendum for residents and taxpayers to vote on and decide. Additionally, the property taxes might be removed if it becomes property of the school district.
Mr. Garrido was contacted but he was not able to provide information at time of publication.
Tonight there is a meeting between School Superintendent Pedro Garrido and the parents of students who attend the ECC. The meeting is open to the public and will be at 7 p.m. in John Adase Early Childhood Center located at 258 W. Webster Avenue.
A copy of both letters are available below for review.