$12.6 Million Referendum For School Safety

Brick Township Board of Education. (Photo by Judy Smestad-Nunn)

BRICK – On Nov. 6, voters would be asked to fund a $12.6 million referendum that would be used solely to provide security upgrades at township schools.

“We had promised the public, after Parkland, that we were going to look into our security, and I am very proud to say that as of today, we have accomplished many things in a short period of time,” said Acting Superintendent of Schools Dennis Filippone during a recent Board of Education meeting. Filippone was referring to a Feb. 14 school shooting in Parkland, Florida that resulted in the death of 14 students and three staff members.

Brick schools now have armed security guards in the buildings, and a safety committee has been formed, which is comprised of counselors, police officers, administrators and a government school security expert.

A website designed for parents to leave tips (for example, if they overhear something about a student, or they could report suspicious behavior) has been developed, and would eventually be available for students to leave tips.

“The big part is what we’re going to do with our buildings,” Filippone said. “These school buildings were not built with the presumption that we’re going to have to protect our students from active shooters.”

Newer school buildings include secure vestibules, but adding them later is expensive and complex.

Filippone said the administration wanted to include the building upgrades into the regular operating budget, but after meeting with the architect – who walked through every building to determine its specific needs – the cost for security improvements totaled some $12,580,000, which include enhanced vestibules, video surveillance and much more.

Hoping to get the project started as soon as possible, since it could take months to get the equipment ordered, Filippone said the administration considered holding a special election in October.

“It would cost $54,000 to run a private election for this,” he said. “But the board and I agree, that with this tight budget to add $54,000 on to save a month was not in the best interest of our school district.”

If the referendum is approved, security professionals have said that all 12 buildings would be secure, Filippone said.

Resident John Sluka asked what the impact of the referendum would be to the average taxpayer.

School Business Administrator James Edwards said that if the referendum is approved in November, the board would sell $12.6 million in bonds.

“We’d basically be borrowing the money, and then pay those bonds back over a 25-year period…with interest, but the state of New Jersey provides 40 percent debt service towards that, so we’re only paying back 60 percent of the principal, or about $450,000 a year in debt service.”

The cost to the average homeowner would be around $11 a year, Edwards said.

Brick resident and former Board of Education member Larry Reid asked why the $4 million tax levy increase for the 2018-2019 regular school budget could not be included in the referendum.

Filippone said that Brick does not have a very favorable history of approving referendums for facilities improvements.

“This is fulfilling a promise we made to the public, to secure the buildings and make a safe environment,” he said. “We’ve chosen to make it a safety-only referendum.”

Reid asked if the board had a Plan B if the referendum does not pass.

“Are there some capital projects you’re putting in the budget that you could delay, and put some of these other items in? That’s that a possibility,” Reid said. “Based on this town, I think you might need a Plan B.”

Filippone said there is currently no Plan B if the referendum fails.