New Providence’s 2016 Bond Referendum FAQ

 

School Bond FAQNew Providence’s School Bond FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions).  Many residents have asked similar questions in Board of Education (BOE) presentations and again in various Facebook groups in preparation to voting on 9/27/2016.  In order to help I’ve pulled together a School Bond FAQ  paraphrasing BOE, Superintendent, and Principal answers and indicated my own opinions in italics.

Updates to the original will be in gray.  Thanks for the great feedback!

9/28/2016 – Bond passes 985 to 433, with 2.3 yes votes to every no vote.

1.  History & School Bond FAQ

As residents consider how they want to vote on our upcoming school bond referendum, many have asked for some history to put the plan in context.  In short, this is the bond the community asked for in a consensus oriented process involving parents, faculty, the Board of Education (BOE) and our senior citizens.  
As a parent I attended all 9 of the Vision 2020 strategy sessions (2014-2015) and all of the Vision 2015 strategy sessions (~2009-2010), most of the BOE bond presentations over the last 9 months and have been a regular BOE attendee in my 14 years in district.  In contrast, other districts parents are kept far from the school district’s strategic process.

1.1  Strategic Process for 2010-2015 

The district utilized outside consultants to facilitate a series of strategic meetings involved parents and staff.  I felt all of the meetings were well done and great for consensus building, but conclusions were a bit too high level.  

1.2  Superintendent and Principal led Forums

After that we have had regular forums led by our superintendent or a principal or BOE member.  I’ve found them to be relevant, very powerful, a great way to get to real issues, crowd-source innovative solutions and build community consensus.

1.3  Process for emergency budget cuts in Spring of 2010

In an effort to address high taxes, a new governor made deep cuts in state aid to schools, with New Providence suddenly losing over a million dollars, including our rainy day capital expenditure fund of the maximum allowed $550,000.  (For more detail see 6.0 Finance, below).

1.3.1  What we valued most

Our BOE and Superintendent lead a jam packed session in the cafeteria to collectively decide where we wanted to cut.  Parents wanted to keep front line teachers, our strong music program and our New Providence High School experience in which all clubs and sports are free and typically have a 94% student participation rate.  The philosophy is that being involved helps keep kids out of trouble. A wise older parent told me “With our no cut policy kids have to pick something every season or you’ll have no social life.”  Once my kids  got to the high school I realized they were right, it really is wonderful!

1.3.2  What we cut

Instead we chose to cut French language and less popular  Middle School clubs as well as all Middle School sports with PAL and New Providence Soccer Club stepping in filling the gap from 6th to 8th grade.  We also cut our Assistant Superintendent position.  She retired and then un-retired a year later when money was found to pay her salary.  (At the time I was also in the we-have-too-many-administrators-per-student camp, but now know more about how much we need one to deal with all the crazy state and federal reporting and directives!)  The cuts hurt but we chose them together and we kept what our community valued most.

In response to this cost-cutting environment, I led the expansion of elementary after-school enrichment program.  Eventually, the BOE found the money  to fund the most popular clubs.

1.4 The rise and fall of after school enrichment for elementary kids

1.4.1  The Rise

In response to  this cost-cutting environment, I led the expansion of AWR’s after-school enrichment program.  We surveyed parents about what they wanted, automated enrollment by migrating to the Borough’s Recreation department Community Pass system, and then expanded to include both elementary schools, as well as Spring and Fall sessions.  The recreation department also converted the ceramics club to a class and offered it for a fee.  Coordination included all 3 K-8 principals, teachers, 2 PTA’s, the Borough’s recreation department, parents and blessings from the BOE and town Council.  The coordination and implementation was remarkably easy because of New Providence’s long tradition of teamwork and parent volunteers!

1.4.2  The Fall

The expanded program flourished for a few years, but the classes were fun and fluffy and neither the parents nor teachers were paid much.  While this was fine for a month a year, as more parents went back to work enrollment dropped and the offering stagnated.  NPEF funded grants (2004, 2006, 2007) to offer after school remedial  classes and we quickly learned enrichment could not be offered in the same week, or our remedial dollars would be wasted.  Then Title I funds were used for remedial programs before school, the PARCC roll out sucked up extra teacher time and After School Enrichment was eliminated in ~2014 due to conflicts on all sides.  Teachers can add on an activity before or after school, but not both.

1.4.2  The challenge of 4th to 8th graders after school.

This left us with a dearth of after-school programming for our 4th to 8th graders.  Our sports meet 2-3 times a week, Girl Scouts and Cub Scouts 2x a month, a recreation acting class they’d already done for years, instrument practice 20 minutes a day but we had nothing for math and tech related extra-curricula.  We tried classes at ChathamSTEM / JerseySTEM, we organized NP STEM, led field trips, joined Boards, held parent-led robotics groups, math clubs and competitions, drove vans of kids to events, bought and tried curricula, arranged scholarships so friends could afford to join.  I even started town-wide Girl Scout events as NP’s Service Unit Manager since Boy Scouts had bridged this gaping chasm for my sons.  While individual events went well we were losing the battle at my house.  We needed trained teachers on our side.

1.4.3  The battle for joyful learning is won or lost partnering with schools

Across the nation many kids lose interest in STEM in the 4th to 8th grade window.  Luckily, new science standards are being rolled out by our trained teachers: 5th-12 graders this year, K-4th next year.  In every grade group work and self directed learning through experimentation will be easier in the 4 new STEM rooms. Our hard working libraries are already booked.  We want our kids to do experiments, get messy, make mistakes and get annoyed with a team member for not pulling their weight and learn to get past it.   Our high school should have enough labs with water and gas and electric for every interested high school student to put on safety goggles and perform experiments themselves.  The proposed bond would bring us 8 new rooms and 6 enhanced ones.
Even today’s warehouse workers work with robots.  Jobs are more dynamic and weave STEM throughout, even for those who don’t attend college.  Every student, every grade, every subject, every teacher should be able to appropriately weave technology, science, math and even engineering through their learning in order to flourish joyfully in tomorrow’s world.

1.5 Strategic Process for 2015-2020

As part of a 3 year process, the first year (2014-2015) consisted of 9 superintendent led forums each on a specific topic.  Some were packed with standing room only (elementary, middle / high school &  STEM),  two had light turn out (facilities and security; finance) and  were merely full (extracurricular, sports and music; special education and gifted programs etc.)  Conversations were frank in part because there were no reporters, recording devices or the formality of public meetings. Meetings were publicized widely and if the open format didn’t work for someone they were encouraged to meet privately with school leadership or submit something in writing.
After one of the smaller meetings a parent characterized the open exchange of ideas when she stopped me the next day and asked “Did I say too much?  I felt like I could tell Dr. Miceli anything.”    There is a great deal of trust between most parents and the district leadership.  It probably pre-dated Dr. Miceli but has certainly remained strong during his 13 years as superintendent. 

1.6  Vision 2020 Strategic Goals and STEM Department Chair

In June of the same year the BOE synthesized this input into our 2020 strategic goals and created a STEM Department head position. I found them to be reflective of the discussions as did other participants I’ve spoken to.

1.7  After school for 4th to 8th graders

1.7.1 In 2014-2015

Elementary parents didn’t want to wait for new curriculum, NPMS mods or NPHS electives.  Parents wanted interesting extra-curriculars NOW, while our own kids could benefit.  Luckily, as part of Vision 2020 the BOE found the money to re-institute co-curricular clubs with offerings at the middle and elementary schools, which were a huge success.  Over 100 elementary kids signed up at AWR alone!  The climate went from “kids/girls at school aren’t into math and science” to contagious excitement.   I’ve seen first hand the importance of a five year planning cycle as needs change. 

 1.7.2  In 2016

Also, the borough’s recreation department has been actively experimenting with courses with established STEM curricula to offer in the Summer Enrichment Academy (SEA) and after school.  Luckily, our recreation department and school district work with parents to find the right balance between “traditional recreation” and more educational programs.  A breadth of options, during and after school, gives our kids the opportunity to sample many things and discover their deeper interests.  Many towns don’t work so well together, even in suburbia.
Rumor has it, New Providence Recreation plans for 2016-2017 include:
  • Sylvan Learning – Coding for Kids (Hopefully beginning in October)
  • AlphaBest Education (mostly K-5) – Go Green: Recycled Racers, Build it With Lego, Storytelling With Lego, STEM Maker Lab: Ocean Rescue, Chemistry Crime Mysteries and BeeBot Robot Discovery.

If we want classes to stay then we have to enroll and communicate with Recreation!

1.8  Translating Strategic Goals to an action plan with staff

During the following year (2015-2016) our new STEM department chair worked with faculty to assess our curriculum, standards etc. in light of our Vision 2020 goals, which they presented at January 2016 BOE.    He described this as getting the plumbing and electrical right before we worry about window treatments.  Every standard and every teacher in every building was included.  An example of a rubric was that technology in a presentation had to enhance meaning, be legible, audible etc.  Then, the blue prints were drafted at high level, presented to the public for questions, revised again in more detail.

2. STEM

     2.1  Why is STEM being given such prominence?

STEM came up in all 9 Vision 2020 Strategy meetings in 2014-2015.  In the bigger meetings everyone wrote down the 1 thing they wanted most and then we all discussed and ranked the various ideas other than our own. The ideas were sorted and read out from high to low.  It was stunning how STEM dominated these issues.  So yes, STEM has become a buzzword when discussing this bond, but the district is only echoing what parents and staff asked for.
 
At the time many college graduates were having trouble finding jobs, and I think we feared our kids living in our basements indefinitely!
 
STEM related training and hiring will be covered in the annual operating budget.

2.2  Is STEM just for Gifted and Talented Kids?

NO.  It is firmly a K-12 program for all kids, all grades, all buildings. This has been reiterated by both Dr. Miceli and the BOE (end of BOE part in linked video) and district has added the STEM overview in response to parent questions.  STEM is a national push in the educational community to prepare all of our children for 21st century learning.  It is considered important to US competitiveness.

Advanced Placement and Project Lead the Way, our new K-12 engineering curriculum, are joining forces.

3.  Enrollment

3.1  Are classes suddenly bigger?  Enrollment Estimates

  • Middle school enrollment is as forecast last year – 362 students.  Peak is expected to be 420 students in about 3 years.
  • High school enrollment was forecast to be 668 and actual was 664.  As the enrollment peak reaches the high school then a shared facility will make it easier to allocate rooms as needed between grades.
  • Projected elementary enrollment without preschool or LLC was 1269, but it came in as 1286, up 17 students.  As of last spring 2016-2017 was expected to be the peak enrollment year for the elementary schools
  • Between 8/10 and start of kids 34 additional kids enrolled, 24 of them elementary school
  • According to realtors between 8/1 and 9/1 28 houses closed, 22 of which had 4 bedrooms.  A 4 bedroom house in NP costs 33% less than Chatham.
  • Enrollment estimates posted Friday 9/16/2016 on NPSD board web site.
  • Pretty good description of proposed new classrooms

3.2  How is enrollment estimated?

Live birth rates, which have been historically quite accurate.  When we were ranked #1 our enrollment went up about 8%.  This seems to be how BOE’s estimate enrollment across the country.  The BOE is open to all measures in the future that might help us estimate or respond to growth.  They’ve said this repeatedly.

Interestingly, when richer towns were ranked #1 they report less of a growth in enrollment.  Fewer people can afford a $1,000,000 house.

3.3  Can we change the referendum now to add more classrooms?

No.  The state does their own enrollment projections to make sure we don’t overbuild.  The state also has to approve each element of our plans, a lengthy process.  We already know that the 8 new classrooms and 14 improved classrooms are needed in September of next year to support students already in district.

The community could have changed what was in the bond when it was presented twice last Spring (2016).

3.4  I’m a parent worried about class sizes. How will this bond help?

3.4.1  Will Salt Brook’s “small group instruction” rooms help out with large class sizes?  How might they be used.

Yes, the new and renovated rooms at each elementary school give the principals the flexibility to add another section at each elementary school  next September. Those are in addition to a new STEM room at each school.

The next generation science standards have more STEM components which the new STEM room(s) in each building  will be useful for.  These rooms will also give us space to hold school competitions and clubs.  Otherwise, the only room is the Media Center, which is already in heavy demand.

3.4.2  What will a yes (or no) vote buy me next September in my school?

A yes on this bond buys us 8 new class rooms, 8 rooms renovated to be more flexible for a total of 16 rooms that are either new or more capable.

Salt Brook – 2 new rooms + 1 renovated STEM room

  • Convert locker rooms into 2 new small group instruction rooms
  • Renovate an existing classroom into 1 STEM room
  • My guess is the extra classroom for another section could come from moving  resource room or  LLD groups into the 2 new small instruction rooms and freeing up an existing room

Allen W. Roberts – 1 new classroom + 1 new STEM room

  • Convert locker rooms into 1 regular sized classroom where a new section could be housed
  • 1 new STEM room, also from locker rooms

Middle School  – 1 new classroom + 1 AC room + 1 hallway “short cut”

  • 1 new class room along a new hallway from the MS classrooms to the MS gym
  • 1 newly air conditioned classroom (new hallway means it will no longer have outside windows.
  • Short cut hallway from middle school hall to middle school gym (which will save a HUGE walk around for students)

High School – 4 new rooms,  2 Renovated rooms

  • Renovate Graphic Design room – STEM wing
  • Renovate Industrial Arts room – STEM wing
  • 2 new STEM classrooms – STEM wing
  • 2 new Universal laboratories with gas, water and electric at the stations – 1 in STEM wing, 1 next to library

Shared MS/HS resources 3 renovated spaces

  • Renovate library – separate entrance.  Books around walls.  Furniture in middle can be moved around multiple times a day as needed.
  • Renovate one of the gyms, new flooring, acoustic panels & other stuff
  • 1 resource room by converting the science storage closet.  While the room is new it isn’t a new capability because it replaces one from the new STEM wing.

3.4.3 Will a “no” vote mean that NP kids won’t be able to schedule all of their requirements before graduation?

No.  It will make it more challenging for kids to schedule all requirements and it will limit opportunities for all students in order to prioritize upper classmen requirements for graduation.  As we offer more programming and more advanced course work we introduce more complexity into the schedule.  If a particular course is only offered in 1 class period we need space to offer it.  Electives won’t be elective.  Underclassmen will take the class that fits their schedule.

4.0  Security

New vestibule at each building with “Deadman doors.”  Visitors and deliveries to the school can be allowed to enter, but access to the entire facility will be restricted by a second set of doors.  New door locks through out district and sometimes new doors.  Proposals developed after consultations with local police, state police, the former Superintendent of Sandy Hook, and Homeland security.

5.0  Why weren’t funds allocated for X?

5.1   Air Conditioning in HS/MS Auditorium and more classrooms.

It is usually very hot the first week of school and for two weeks at the end of the school year.  In 2016 the fall heat continued for the 2nd week of classes.  This typically affects graduation, awards night and one other event.  Estimate for AC in the auditorium is $600,000, including $200,000 to redo all of the electric in that area.  AC to existing classrooms will require a major upgrade to MS/HS building’s electrical and redoing all of the wiring, which dramatically adds to the expense.  BOE deemed AC to not be as urgent as other items.

Electrical upgrade might also be required at Salt Brook and Allen W Roberts.  AC could also enable district to go to a trimester system, with longer breaks and a shorter summer.  While more efficient for educating our kids, it might disrupt many families summer traditions.

5.2  Replacing Turf at Lieder Field?

The expected useful life of turf fields is turning out to be longer than originally estimated.  Lieder and other fields like it seem to be in good shape and are wearing well.  BOE believes we have other avenues for addressing funding for that Lieder Field.  The bond does include work on the middle school gym (I believe the floors are being resurfaced and acoustic panels are being added for noise control.)

My guess is it is on their short list of scheduled maintenance items for the next expected bond in 10 years.

5.3  Repaving the parking lots, especially at AWR

Was on the $30 million wish list but deemed less urgent than other infrastructure items.  Likely to be part of the next bond in 10 years.

5.4  If work comes in under budget, what items are you most likely to add?

  • Window replacements to make them more efficient
  • Furniture – Taking out old and redoing classrooms.  Doing a few every year.
  • Much beautification is paid for by PTA’s/PTO/s

6.0  Financing –

Explained fairly well in Bond Referendum FAQ’s.

6.1  Do we receive any state money for this construction?

Yes, 36% will be reimbursed for this project. The state pays 40% for renovations and 20% for new construction.  We are renovating the last under-utilized spaces.  After this additions will be new construction and hence more expensive.

6.2 Why can’t the school district save a little each year for big ticket items just like households do?

In New Jersey big expenditures on schools are financed with bonds.  Our school district used to keep a rainy day fund, the maximum we’re allowed, $550,000.  However, in Spring of 2010 the state of NJ  was short funds and they took it.  Trenton literally went into the accounts of local school districts across the sate that were fiscally responsible and took their rainy day funds, so New Providence doesn’t do that anymore.  In 2011 a 2% cap was established on tax increases without a referendum vote similar to the one we’re having on September, 27.

Twenty year bonds worth $7.5 MM are retiring.  If we vote “no” our property taxes will go down and the schools will have that much less money.

These bonds were refinanced twice,  which is the bond size BOE expected to float when they started the Vision 2020 strategy meetings.  Parents and staff asked for about $30 MM of really important things. The BOE chose the most urgent $15.9 MM.

We are AAA rated.  Coupon rate calculated at 3%, but could be less.  Last bond was 11 years ago.  Next tranche retires in 10 years.

7.0 What other sources may I look to for information?

  • Information on the Bond Referendum [was] on the district web site
  • TAPinto New Providence
    • New Providence BOE $15.9 M Referendum Based on Need: Vote Set for September 27
    • New Providence Board of Education Provides Referendum Info to Borough Council

    • What The Referendum Means to New Providence School District; Community Open Discussions Scheduled

  • VoteYesSept27.com

Did I miss one?  Please let me know & I’ll be happy to add it.

 

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Cecile Seth

Trying to make our world better. Mom to 3. Recovering Management Consultant. MBA. STEMshoots.com Founder.

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