By ARNAV CHINCHANKAR ‘22
Edison is set to vote on another bond referendum on March 10 to fund the expansion and renovation of Edison High, J.P. Stevens, and four other district schools. This referendum follows a previous vote on December 10, 2019, in which 3,677 voted against and 2,640 voted for expansion. The Board of Education voted on January 6, 2020 to place the referendum on this month’s ballot under the leadership of new Board of Education President, Ralph Errico.
The referendum hopes to address overcrowding in the school district, first brought to attention when former Board of Education President Jingwei “Jerry” Shi created an Overcrowding Taskforce in January 2018. After extensive research, the district and SSP Architects, a Bridgewater-based architectural group, created a proposal to account for the increasing number of students. In the next four to seven years, Edison High School is projected to exceed its capacity by 400 students. School expansion and renovation aims to counteract this increase in enrollment
At a recent town hall, Superintendent Dr. F. Bernard Bragen said “We need to [pass the referendum]. It has to be dealt with. We can put our head in the sand and look the other way, and that’s just going to get worse. The numbers are going to continue to get higher… The costs are going to get higher.” At his State of the Township Address, Mayor Thomas Lankey said, “We haven’t done enough, and that’s clear. There are a number of issues that need to be tackled. Failure is not an option as we move forward. We need to solve the overcrowding issue. Our kids depend upon it.”
Public opinion differs on the necessity of the changes. Students like Sahil Desai ‘22 say that “the school needs more classrooms to fit the growing student body.” On the other hand, students like Aditya Modi ‘22 believe that “there isn’t that much crowding in Edison High. Taxpayer money should be used elsewhere.”
The proposal aims to make several additions to Edison High School: fifteen classrooms, three science labs, a gym, a fitness center, and a music/orchestra room. The referendum also calls for the renovation of the media center, improved athletic facilities, renovated guidance and nurse offices, and an expansion of the cafeteria. All new construction will be air-conditioned. If passed, the proposal includes a potential return to full-day kindergarten.
The original plan would have cost the township $189.5 million. After modifications were made, the Edison Finance and Facilities Committee, along with the Board of Education, reduced the cost of the proposal to $183 million. According to A Brighter Edison, the referendum’s website, the state’s debt service aid covers $31 million of these expenditures, while the remaining $152 million will be covered by the district. As a result, Edison citizens will see an average tax increase of $18 a month, or $216 annually, based on the assessment of an average township home priced at $179,600.
Many parents are concerned with the referendum because other districts seem to combat overcrowding utilizing less funds. A referendum on March 10 in Woodbridge Township asks for the approval of $87 million in expansions. If approved, Woodbridge would see a school replaced, large additions to two schools, and the renovation of all of the schools in the district.
A twenty-year Edison resident and Edison High parent commented, “Personally I want it [the referendum] passed so the kids can have the resources and space they need. But based on what I’ve been hearing from other members of the Edison community, this is the third time the referendum is going through and we really haven’t had much additional information from the Board of Education as to why $180 million is needed, when townships like Woodbridge are doing something similar at a much lower cost without a tax increase due to federal funding.”
If passed, the plan is projected to be completed within 3 years, with construction beginning as soon as this summer. If the referendum is not approved, the district will have to consider alternative solutions, including trailers, split sessions, and redistricting.
The vote will take place on March 10, 2020, when polls will be open from noon to 8 p.m.