MONROE – Administrators in the Monroe Township School District said they will find themselves with a “huge gaping hole” in the educational system if the need for a new middle school is not addressed.
That is why district administrators are set to present a two-question, $146 million referendum to residents in a March 12 election.
The first question will ask voters if they are in favor of building a new middle school on a 35-acre site at Applegarth and Cranbury Station roads. The school would house 1,000 students. Residents may vote “yes” or “no” on the question, which carries a $75 million cost, according to district administrators.
The property currently operates as a leased golf driving range. Administrators said the property is an optimal location due to its accessibility. They said the school would have a one-story core area and a three-story classroom wing.
The second referendum question will ask voters if they are in favor of building an addition to Monroe Township High School, Schoolhouse Road. Residents may vote “yes” or “no” on the question, which carries a $71 million cost, according to district administrators.
The high school addition would be adjacent to the soccer fields. The new space would include 30 classrooms, six science labs, four special education classrooms, two engineering labs, three resource rooms, expanded music/band space, cafeteria and culinary arts classroom, an auxiliary gymnasium for physical education and the conversion of existing teacher work rooms into special education rooms.
Administrators said the proposed high school addition is contingent on the passage of the middle school question. They said if voters approve both questions, the new middle school could open in September 2022 and the high school addition could open in December 2022.
At present, the district consists of six elementary schools, one middle school and one high school.
“We feel we have a great plan to meet the needs of the district and the plan is considerate of all the residents of the district,” Acting Superintendent of Schools Robert Goodall said. “We are putting forth a responsible referendum for the people to vote on and we hope the community will come together and support the referendum.”
Business Administrator Michael Gorski said the two questions on the March 12 ballot were developed as the outcome of a survey spearheaded by Assistant Superintendent Dori Alvich to obtain feedback from the community following the rejection of a $68.8 million referendum that proposed the construction of a new middle school last year. That referendum was defeated by 143 votes.
District administrators also received contributions from the Board of Education’s steering committee and determined based on evidence and data, including a demographic study and enrollment projections, that the new middle school is the most needed, priority project.
The state would contribute $11.55 million in debt service aid, to be paid in 30 annual installments, district administrators said.
The owner of a home currently assessed at $100,000 would pay $49 more per year in school taxes for 30 years if voters approve the construction of the middle school. That homeowner would pay an additional $44 per year for 30 years if voters also approve the construction of the high school addition. The total annual increase in school taxes would be $93 per year for 30 years, according to district administrators.
The owner of a home currently assessed at $325,000 would pay $159 more per year in school taxes for 30 years if voters approve the construction of the middle school. That homeowner would pay an additional $143 per year for 30 years if voters also approve the construction of the high school addition. The total annual increase in school taxes would be $302 per year for 30 years, according to district administrators.
Board members approved both referendum questions on Jan. 23. Some board members expressed concern that the two questions would cause confusion among voters.
Gorski said residents may vote “yes” or “no” on each ballot question.
Goodall said the referendum is designed to prioritize the construction of a new middle school.
Administrators said the current Monroe Township Middle School on Perrineville Road is operating beyond its functional capacity and has already required the installation of 10 temporary classroom trailers. The school’s current enrollment is 1,710 students. The projected enrollment for 2021 is 2,072 students. The building, which is the district’s former high school, was constructed to house 1,100 students.
The current enrollment at the high school, which was built to house 1,800 students, is 2,400 students. The projected enrollment for 2021 is 2,993 students.
Administrators said they are maximizing space at the high school by using non-traditional areas as classrooms; for example, lecture halls with three classes meeting simultaneously for classroom instruction, teaching physical education classes in a hallway, and offering classroom instruction in the media center.
Goodall said classroom trailers are expensive to lease and operate, and potentially impact valuable student programs in the operating budget.
“The current overcrowding is creating an environment of unproductive class sizes in core academic courses, including science labs, mathematics and language arts,” he said.
Goodall said that in trying to create a model of two middle schools feeding into one large high school, administrators recognized the importance of equal opportunities and additional co-curricular activities for students.
He said that along with having better facilities for teachers to teach and students to learn in, co-curricular activities are extensions of the classroom and with two middle schools, activities will be afforded equally for all students.
Mayor Gerald Tamburro attended a school board meeting on Feb. 4 and expressed support for the referendum, saying, “Strong communities are built on solid foundations and there are few things more important than the quality of our public schools.”
District administrators are distributing referendum information to residents and making presentations to interested groups. A schedule of presentations is listed on the district’s website at referendum.monroe.k12.nj.us