Documents obtained through OPRA (Open Public Request Act) have revealed that the Board of Education (BOE) has submitted forms to the state to request a special election in September to have voters decide whether or not they want to fund three (3) projects.
The projects are the replacement of the field lighting at the high school athletic complex and two STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math) classrooms – one in the middle school and one in the high school.
The BOE voted at the February 28th meeting to pass four (4) resolutions without mentioning the request for a special election on Tuesday, September 26th.
In speaking with Roselle Park School District (RPSD) Superintendent Pedro Garrido and Business Administrator Sue Guercio, they stated these matters were in their preliminary stages and nothing was set in stone at this point. It was stated that the paperwork needed to be submitted in order to meet the deadline for a September special election in case the board chose to proceed with that option. Still, a special election is being considered separate from the November general election.
Even though such referendum(s) – it is not known if it will be one or three questions on the ballot – can be part of the November general election at no additional expense to taxpayers, a special election just for these questions will have to be paid through property taxes even if, in the end, the proposals are voted down by a majority of voters.
In previous years, members of the board have expressed concern with moving school board elections back to April, citing the cost-savings with having BOE elections in November at no additional cost to taxpayers. Also, with having school board elections in November, voters can only vote for any expenditures in a school budget that exceeds a 2% cap; they cannot vote on the entire budget. If BOE elections return to April, every budget – in totality – will be able to be approved or defeated by voters. Currently, only a handful of BOE members, most notably Sundjata Sekou, want to have school board elections moved back to April so that voters can vote on school year budgets.
This all started when BOE member Troy Gerten abstained on the four (4) resolutions shown below during the February 28th meeting:
Download BOE Resolutions 24 through 27
Mr. Gerten stated, “The reason for the abstention is as of 7:20 this evening, I just found out about these plans and when I read the language here, section 1, 2, and 3 This board by resolution is authorizing the issuance of schematic plans and educational specifications and I, personally, have seen either of those and I don’t know that they exist. With that being said I will abstain from those four items.”
No other BOE member addressed the matter and the resolutions were passed with Mr. Gerten being the only abstention.
Later on, at that same meeting, Mr. Gerten further explained, “We’re basically applying for applications with the state. I don’t agree with the language in there. There [are] no education specifications or schematic plans to my knowledge and we’re attesting and approving of that. When I came on the board I always said I’d vote my [conscience] and I’m not going to approve something that I don’t think exists.”
Although schematics were provided to Roselle Park News as part of the OPRA request, Mr. Gerten confirmed that he never received any such plans before or during the meeting.
The questions that remain, if the option to proceed with a September special election six weeks before the general election is approved by the BOE, are:
- Why hold a special election in September (at an additional cost to taxpayers) instead of including the projects as questions in the November general election?
- Will the referendum be individual or combined ballot questions?
- How will schools be affected due to a special election?
- How much will a special election cost?
The three applications and accompanying schematics are available below for review/download:
Download RPHS Proposed Field Lighting Plan Application
Download RPHS Proposed Field Lighting Plan
Download RPHS STEAM Classroom Application
Download RPHS STEAM Classroom Renovations
Download RPMS STEAM Classroom Application
Download RPMS STEAM Classroom Renovations