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The 2019 School Referendums

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Water pools on Verona school roofs and leaks into the buildings below. All school roofs are near or over their expected 20-year life and would be replaced under the first referendum.

This November, Verona voters will be asked to vote on two referendums to fund repairs and improvements at all six of Verona’s public schools. The Board of Education highlighted what will be covered in the two measures at its September 24 meeting, and Superintendent Dr. Rui Dionisio has several information sessions planned with different community groups before Verona goes to the polls.

Here are some things to know before then:

What will this cost me?
The BOE is looking to bond for $22,273,701 for the first referendum and $5,497,802 for the second. It has estimated the cost to taxpayers as $14.50 per month ($174 per year) for the former and $3.50 per month ($43 per year) for the latter.

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Didn’t we just have a school referendum?
The last referendum was in March 2014. By a vote of 1,766 to 1,065, it approved new boilers at Verona High School, improvements to school security and technology, and upgrades to the two VHS fields. The final cost to taxpayers was $13.8 million because the BOE got a $2.8 million grant from the state. (This year’s referendums are not eligible for a state facilities construction grant to reduce their cost.) Last November, voters approved two ballot questions to make Verona’s kindergarten program full day and expand school mental health services. A referendum authorizes a single bond, to be repaid over many years, while a ballot question adds a fixed amount to the school budget every year that can only be spent on the approved programs.

The district has patched roofs as part of regular maintenance, but full replacements are now needed.

Why are there two referendums?
One is for a wide variety of repairs. The second is specifically to add air conditioning at all six schools, and it cannot be implemented if the first referendum fails. The BOE has done both single and double referendums in recent years. In addition to the one in 2014, there was a single referendum in 2007 to turf the upper field at VHS, which failed 1,428 votes to 955. The last double referendum was in 2005, when voters approved building repairs but not work on the playing fields.


Why can’t we fix the schools out of the regular budget?
There’s no money for it. State law limits school budget increases to 2% per year, which barely keeps up with the cost of staff and supplies. In addition, the state has shortchanged Verona for years on state aid. In March, Dr. Dionisio said that Verona has had a $6 million cumulative loss in state aid since 2011.

So what will we get with these referendums?
The first referendum covers new roofs at all six schools, most of which are over or close to their 20-year useful life. Despite regular patching by school maintenance staff, the roofs leak and that is causing water damage. It will also cover new rigging on all school stages, a remodel of the locker rooms at Verona High School and H.B. Whitehorne as well as HBW’s facade and track, the replacement of the floor in VHS’ “new” gym, window and boiler fixes, and other security and communications systems. There will be playground upgrades to make those facilities more like the new playground in Verona Park. The second referendum will provide air conditioning upgrades at all 6 schools. Temperatures inside many classrooms are often not conducive to learning.

The referendum would fund repairs to HBW’s facade, but preserve its architectural details.

Will there be more referendums in the future?
Yes, but not immediately. Before the 2005 referendum, the BOE did a needs assessment that identified $67 million in needed repairs to Verona schools. We are still working through that punch list while adding new spending on security and technology. Most of Verona’s schools are old (Laning just turned 100) and while it is not cost effective to rebuild them, any large maintenance costs will be more than the district’s budget can handle unless state budget rules or state aid change. Dr. Dionisio and the BOE have said repeatedly that voters should plan on a referendum every 5 to 10 years.

What if I have more questions?
There are videos explaining every aspect of the referendums on the district’s website and its Facebook group. There will be another public meeting on the referendum on Saturday, October 12, at 2 p.m. in the auditorium at VHS. You can also reach out to BOE members and Dr. Dionisio.

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Virginia Citrano
Virginia Citranohttps://myveronanj.com
Virginia Citrano grew up in Verona. She moved away to write and edit for The Wall Street Journal’s European edition, Institutional Investor, Crain’s New York Business and Forbes.com. Since returning to Verona, she has volunteered for school, civic and religious groups, served nine years on the Verona Environmental Commission and is now part of Sustainable Verona. She co-founded MyVeronaNJ in 2009. You can reach Virginia at [email protected]

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