Speaking in the public comment portion of the Nov. 29 meeting of the Board of Education, former mayoral and state senatorial candidate Frank MacCormack asked if the school district was prepared to handle a possible influx of additional students who might arrive in the area thanks to two new housing developments.
Earlier in November, the town found out that two projects had been proposed to the New Jersey Meadowlands Commission, one which would build 12 new townhouses on a property along Flanagan Way, and a much larger project at the end of Meadowlands Parkway that would construct 225 townhouses - three or four family units designed to accommodate families.
"I'm concerned that we have spent millions to upgrade our school system in order to provide classroom space for our children and that these projects may create space problems," MacCormack said, noting that the town will have additional infrastructure expenses if the projects are approved by the NJMC.
Board Member Anthony Rinaldi that while the district had not intended to face such an influx so soon, the board, in designing the two new additions, had anticipated some future expansion and provided steel structure in the new sections of Clarendon and Huber Street schools that would allow for an additional floor.
MacCormack said he did not want to see the district having to pass another bond in order to accommodate additional students from the new development.
"Many people moved to this town to escape the overcrowding in other parts of the county," he said. "Right now, people are having a hard time parking on their own street."
MacCormack also noted that an increased population in Secaucus could also require the town to establish a paid fire department. Currently the town is serviced by a volunteer department that operates out of five town-owned fire houses.
"One of the reasons Secaucus' taxes remain lowest in the county is because of our volunteer fire department," he said. "But if we get more development we may not have a choice but to go to a paid department."
Traffic sign proposed
A resident of Huber Street has offered to put a sign on his property to help slow traffic that approaches the school drop off.
Board member Thomas Troyer said the resident, Anthony Ranaudo, volunteered use of his property because the speed of cars down the narrow street seems to have increased in recent months.
Several board members noted that Clarendon School has a flashing sign on Fifth Street which is activated any time students are being picked off or dropped off. Such a sign would require town approval, said Superintendent Constantino Scerbo.
Troyer said Ranaudo's proposal would be on his own property, and would not likely need police or town approval.
The board felt that traffic on the other side of Huber Street could benefit from a flashing warning sign, since students, teachers, parents and visitors to the school cross the road to get to the school. Previously, the school parking lot was on the same side of the street right beside the school. But the school expansion took the old parking lot. The town constructed a new parking lot across the street.
Board member Ed Rittberg said the matter could be discussed in the Interlocal Committee meeting, when members from various public bodies such as the school board, the Housing Authority, the town, and other bodies get together to discuss various programs beneficial to them all.
Audit comes out better than ever
The yearly audit of Secaucus school district finances came back with only two recommendations, Board of Education members said at their Nov. 29 meeting. This was a sharp decrease from several years ago, which according to board member Michael Pesci sometimes listed as many as 20 recommendations.
A yearly audit is done by an independent auditing firm as required by state law, examining in detail the way a school district conducts its financial operations, from how it purchases to how it spends. It includes everything from petty cash funds to funds dedicated to construction. Recommendations are issued when the auditing firm finds some process that does not precisely fit with state law. Some of these can be very serious, while others require a minor correction.
In this case, the two recommendations were minor, one dealing with the process of meal claim reimbursements, the other dealing with doing certain reports on a timely basis.
The board approved a change in a resolution last August that would reflect better this year's contract with Chartwell Foods for the school cafeteria service. The contract signed this year would continue to pay Chartwell $1,800 per month over 10 months for the service, but for the first time, would also pay the vendor an additional four cents per meal. This contract was the primary reason why meal cost rose in September.
Five year plan shows $23 million in maintenance
The board of education approved a $23 million long range facility plan, a state mandated requirement that outlines the total possible capital needs over the next five years.
Board Member Ed Rittberg said the school district was not committed to doing everything that's in the plan, but that by state law the district had to set life expectancies for nearly every physical element inside the school from carpets to air conditioners, lights to lockers.
Several years ago, the district underwent a study that listed the age and condition of everything in the school district, and as part of the plan, established a life expectancy on each, and set a time frame when each should be replaced. This includes how often a classroom or hallway might have to be painted, how many years a carpet is expected to last. The facilities plan would lay out the total amount a district would be expected to spend in a given five year period, said Board President Paul Amico.
"The survey was soup to nuts," Amico said. "It listed the square foot of each class room, how old a shelf was and all the things a district must do."
While Rittberg admitted the $23 million might seem like a lot, in actually, it covers much of what the district does anyway, and often includes repeated jobs. For instance, the school district resurfaces its gym floor every two years. This plan includes the cost for two such projects.
Rinaldi said the plan also checks on compliance with building codes and Americans with Disabilities Act requirements, as well as modernization.
In other school news, the School Board Technology Committee has been meeting with representatives from Apple Computer, said Committee Chairman Michael Schlemm. The meetings answered numerous questions over training and other elements of a proposed installation of Apple computers in the schools. While the school district originally had Apple computers in the district, lack of programs and other problems forced the committee to upgrade with IBM-style PCs. But Schlemm and Pesci said Apple had improved significantly and has offered the school district significant incentives to include Apple Computers here.