How sweet it is: Voters pass school budget and bond, giving green light to expansion
Five years ago, after voters rejected a $10.9 million school bond proposal, no one laughed when tabulating the votes. More than a few people cried after working so hard for so long only to find their efforts futile. But April 18, school officials were all smiles, congratulating each other over a job well done as votes came in from the various poling places. Although the usual small percentage of registered voters came out, those who did responded positively to the idea of this year's $6.5 million bond, as well as the school's $20 million budget. Several board members claimed that the nearly 3-1 margin of victory sent a message saying voters approved of the direction the board had taken over the last few years. "This is an endorsement by the public for the job this board has done," said Board President Michael Pesci. Pesci, along with board member Edward Rittberg, won reelection. Resident John Volie was elected for the first time. The three faced no opposition. As for the budget and bond, both won substantial victories in every district in all three wards. "This makes all the work worth while," Pesci said. Several members in the exuberant crowd claimed the election victory was one not seen in Secaucus in over 25 years, ever since voters approved the construction of the high school. "Enjoy it now," one resident said. "You won't see this again for another 25 years." The last construction bond that was proposed for the schools went down in defeat in 1995. Officials expected that when absentee ballots were counted, they would make the margin of victory even higher, since many supports of the bond and budget were on vacation last week because schools are closed. large project
The $6.5 million expansion of the two grammar schools is the largest project since the construction of the high school, said board member Edward Rittberg. The vote now sets into motion a series of steps that will lead to the construction of new classrooms in both Huber Street and Clarendon Schools, as well as the redistricting of students. "We're going to be on the phone with the architects in the morning," said board member Paul Amico. Although the construction will take over a year to complete, with the school projecting a finish around September, 2001, officials claim the work will not interfere with existing classes. "We're going to have a construction manager evaluate each part as we go along," Rittberg said. "This is different from what has been done in the past." Superintendent Constantino Scerbo said school officials will meet regularly with the construction manager to determine what work will be done when, and how to keep it from interfering with ongoing classes. Amico said a larger part of the heavy construction work will be done during the summer to avoid affecting students. Redistricting of students will begin when the schools are finished, said Scerbo. The additions in both schools will result in equal school populations for the first time, and will shift some students now attending Clarendon to Huber Street. It will also involve busing students to Huber Street from the Roosevelt Avenue area for the first time. This will also mean a shift in staff, although Scerbo said he did not see at this time any hiring of additional people. "We'll just be reassigning existing personnel," he said. But the changes to both schools will allow the district to do away with the substandard classroom spaces that the schools were forced to utilize because of lack of space. Student populations in the district have been on the rise for most of the decade, leaving school officials in a quandary as to how to meet the educational needs of the students. Security for Huber Street school was a key issue in this bond, Scerbo said, noting that because the school had been constructed in stages, it lacked a front door. The expansion will create a front door and put the office in that area. It also will provide a multi-purpose room in both schools where students can take lunch, rather than using the gyms. This will free up the gym for longer portions of the day and allow for a variety of purposes not possible before. "This is an exciting day for Secaucus," Scerbo said. Board member Doug MacCormack said he would be seeking re-election next year as a result of the bond passing this year. "Now there is something for me to do," he said. "If this bond had failed, then I would have stepped aside and allowed new people to bring in fresh ideas." Mayor Dennis Elwell, who had supported a bond, said he was heartened by the vote, calling it "a great victory for the town of Secaucus, its children and the future." "These funds will be used to make sure class size is reduced to help ensure the best education possible for our children," Elwell said. "This money will make our schools safer. It will repair leaking roofs. It will guarantee every child a proper seat and place in our schools. And it will ensure that none of the children are forced to try and learn in utility closets or other substandard classrooms.