FRHSD Tries Different Approach For Referendum

Howell High School (Photo by Micromedia Publications)

FREEHOLD – After the rejection of the Freehold Regional High School District’s referendum late last year, the district plans to present voters with three separate referendum questions on this year’s Election Day.

The Board of Education presented the idea at the March 18 meeting where the 2019-2020 budget was adopted as well.

In October 2018, voters rejected the district’s previous, one-question $39.8 million referendum that proposed various improvement projects throughout the district. The project was dubbed FRHSD: Enduring Excellence, aimed at prioritizing security, modern learning environments, athletic facilities, and infrastructure.

With FRHSD: Enduring Excellence, Howell High School would have seen the reconstruction of five tennis courts, roof replacements and improvements to areas of the parking lots. Other schools in the district – Colts Neck High School, Freehold High School, Freehold Township High School, Manalapan High School, and Marlboro High School – would have all had their own respective improvements performed.

Now that the referendum failed to pass, district officials are proposing to address these same improvement projects through three separate referendum questions.

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District officials noted that the timing of FRHSD: Enduring Excellence was ideal, as the debt from the previous referendum – the construction of Colts Neck High School nearly 20 years ago – is now expiring.

“We have waited for the debt to be off the books for the construction of Colts Neck High School so we’re utilizing two-thirds of that funding to be repurposed into the schools and a third to go back in direct tax relief to the taxpayers,” said Sampson.

“As a result, these upgrades will have no negative tax impact on our community members, as the dollars saved from expiring debt will be reinvested into our facilities to cover the costs,” stated the district.

However, the referendum still failed with 4,300 votes against and only 3,411 votes in favor.

The district’s new approach was developed after receiving feedback from the communities following the October referendum. Superintendent of Schools Charles Sampson believes that this approach allows for voters to make more specific selections, while proposing the same types of improvements to the district’s schools.

On Election Day, November 5, 2019, voters will see three referendum questions proposing:

  • Improvements to all six high schools including improvements to security, roofing, paving, and required repairs to Freehold High School’s auditorium.
  • New bleachers and STEM rooms at each high school
  • New athletic fields at Freehold Township High School, Manalapan High School and Marlboro High School, and a new media center at Colts Neck High School

The first question encompasses more specific work “that is going to have to be done” in the district, according to Sampson, making it high priority.

By separating the referendum into three questions, officials are hoping to make the concept clearer for voters as well as prioritize the improvements needed in the district.

“It will make it perhaps more palatable to folks who were strongly against it,” said Sampson.