At the July 24th Board Of Education (BOE) meeting, members of the school board had a 25 minute discussion on current and future developments and their impact to the school system. Currently, the municipality has a redevelopment plan for the property on Westfield Avenue at Chestnut Street – locally known as the Sullivan property – on the agenda for the September 6th meeting as an ordinance to approve or reject. Currently, there is one project being constructed by Capodagli Property Company (CPC) further west on Westfield Avenue and CPC is the unofficial proposed developer for the Sullivan property.
The matter was brought out under New Business by BOE Vice President Christopher Miller.
“I’d like to discuss with the board an initiative that’s been on . . . board member’s minds and that is looking at creating a possible resolution to open up a dialogue with the town council,” Mr. Miller said, “With all the exciting construction and projects going on throughout the town obviously, there’s going to be an impact on the school district as far as possible new students in our buildings. As you know most of our buildings are over a hundred years old and that is something that was need to constantly keep our fingers on the pulse of this town.”
Troy Gerten remarked, “Seeing the town going through transformation is awesome . . . but I think I would like be sure that our schools don’t suffer.”
Mr. Gerten expressed the general concern that the school might not be receiving enough funds from tax levies since the trend for major developments in the borough is to have a PILOT program in place of regular tax payments. PILOT, which stands for Payment In Lieu Of Taxes, is a program by which the improvement part of property taxes has 95% of those funds going to a municipality and 5% going to the county. In PILOT, no money goes to schools from the improvements part of property taxes. It is expected that CPC will want PILOT for the Sullivan property as it already has PILOT for the development currently under construction. Another PILOT exists for the property known as the Romerovski property even further west on Westfield Avenue by the train overpass but – to date – no development has started there. That property is not being developed by CPC.
Property taxes in New Jersey are made up of two (2) sections, the land portion and the improvement portion. A PILOT program still has the land portion of property taxes divided into the customary split of around 50% going to the school district, 30% going to the municipality, 15% going to the county, and the rest going to Open Space and the local library. The improvement section is where almost all those funds go to the municipality.
Although the school district will receive tax levy funds from a PILOT program, it will not be 50%.
Mr. Gerten spoke of how the physical school buildings have aged as well as the infrastructure with some schools being over one hundred years old. He added, “A resolution would be one way to formalize this board’s voice of concern . . . [and] to ensure that while potential developments are beneficial at a municipal level, that there is no negative impact to the school [district].”
BOE President Loren Harms, who is also the chair of the Municipal Land Use Board (MLUB), suggested creating two committees so as to avoid any issues with the Open Public Meetings Act (OPMA) and having a quorum. A committee of four members could meet with the borough’s chief financial officer, Ken Blum, and elected officials to ask them questions about PILOT and other issues related to development. Mr. Harms then said, “If, at that point, if we still want to put a resolution out I think we’d have a better idea of what we could put in the resolution.”
Mr. Harms relayed his understanding of PILOT during the discussion by stating, “[Basically] the town gets a lot of money, the county gets some money, the school district gets no money unless there’s an agreement in [the] PILOT program that the school district gets money. That’s basically what I know about it.”
Mr. Gerten interjected, “That’s my understanding as well . . . I guess that’s what my concern is. We seem to be moving fast and furious on these developments, whether they’re small or big, the PILOT program is exactly as you described and in there there’s not a consideration for the school district unless it happens at that bargaining table with the developer.”
Mr. Harms asked, “A resolution, and please don’t mistake what I say here . . . a resolution does what as compared to a [formal] letter?”
Mr. Miller responded, “It’s a statement.”
Jennifer Osborne, the school board’s attorney, recommended that a meeting or meetings take place first the put out a resolution which would refer back to information obtained in discussions.
Mr. Miller stated that he thought the resolution would be the formal announcement of proceeding to create a dialogue between the two governing bodies.
Ms. Osborne commented, “I don’t know that you need to announce the fact to the community that you’re going to create a dialogue. You’re doing that in essence by having this conversation. But certainly you could do it that way as well and have two resolutions. One at the beginning and one at the end.”
School board member Joseph Signorello suggested that he could ask Mr. Blum to set up a meeting or two in order to discuss the matter of development and the impact on the school district, adding that, basically, “We want to be heard. We’re here and we’re thinking about it.”
Mr. Miller added, “We want to be heard and we want to just know what’s going on and be more educated to what’s happening with developments as it could possibly impact the school district in the future. We always have to look to the future.”
Mr. Miller even gave examples of developers helping with costs associated in expansion of school districts.
At the end of the conversation, the board agreed on establishing the “School Committee On Development In Roselle Park” and broke it down into two sub-committees so members could each meet with the municipality and find out information as well as ask questions. BOE member Matthew Leingang asked when reports on what was discussed and discovered through committee meetings would be given and it was determined that information would be provided to the public during the committee reports of school board meetings. Although the governing body does have a council representative – Jayme Lynn Negron – who is a liaison to the school board, she was not at the July school board meeting.
One possible suggestion was to call a special dual public meeting between the school board and the municipal governing body. This would be more time efficient since all board members and mayor & council would be at the same meeting and thereby have a more productive back & forth but also allow the public to be present and interact in the process. It is the misunderstanding of a PILOT program which was publicly discussed at the July 24th BOE meeting by elected officials that demonstrates the need for such a public meeting between the two major groups of elected officials who will be responsible to act for all residents according to what they know.
The next BOE meeting is scheduled for tomorrow night, August 21st, at the Roselle Park Middle School. The meeting has a start time of 7 p.m. and will have two public comment portions with the second one – at the end – open to questions and comments from the public. The middle school is located at 57 West Grant Avenue.