Monroe board sets up ad hoc committee for input after failed referendums

MONROE – With two failed referendums proposing the construction of a new middle school, school officials are going back to the drawing board.

Board of Education President Kathy Kolupanowich has set up an ad hoc committee welcoming all residents to provide input for what the board’s next steps would be.

“We know we need another referendum,” she said. “We know we need to put our kids some place and we have to figure out what to put [forth in a referendum] the public will support and vote ‘yes.'”

On March 12 voters defeated a two-question, $146 million referendum.

The first question asked voters if they were in favor of building a new middle school on a 35-acre site at Applegarth and Cranbury Station roads. The school would have housed 1,000 students and cost $75 million to build. The first question was defeated by 995 votes.

The second question asked voters if they were in favor of building an addition to Monroe Township High School, Schoolhouse Road, at a cost of $71 million. The proposed high school addition was contingent on the passage of the middle school question. The second question was defeated by 1,152 votes.

This is the second referendum put forth by the board which residents have defeated. In 2018, a $68.8 million referendum that proposed the construction of a new middle school was defeated by 143 votes.

For the referendums, school officials said they have expended $70,000 for poll workers.

A resident inquired to school officials about petitioning the state to come in for assistance; however, school officials said it would be a costly process.

When a district has two consecutive referendum defeats, a district could appeal to the state for relief, according to Business Administrator Michael Gorski.

“The state would come in and look at the information presented in our budget presentation, our enrollment, enrollment projections, and facility limitations,” he said.

Gorski said the state could determine if it is in their interest to provide a thorough and efficient education and the need to override the voters and approve the proposed projects.

“In very rare instances, the state can also contribute funds towards the project,” he said.

In recent news, the state recently overturned the Freehold Borough School District referendum as well as fund 85 percent of the project. However, Gorski said the Monroe Township School District and the Freehold district are not the same in terms of student achievement and meeting thorough and efficient state standards.

Gorski said if the state were to come in and approve a school, it would be a bare bones school without parking lots, athletic fields and performing arts centers, and programming provided at other schools.

“The school would not like any other school in Monroe,” he said. “The state would also not contribute a nickel to the project because Monroe has very high income numbers and very high property ratables.”

Gorski said the process would also would be negotiated through attorneys, not school administrators.

Administrators, when promoting the referendum, 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.

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, officials said.

The middle 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.