Members of the Brick Township school board on Tuesday night affirmed their intention to hold a referendum on $12.5 in new spending for security upgrades to school facilities despite a $22 million funding cut and guaranteed tax increases for the next seven years.
The referendum, which will ask Brick voters to approve $12,580,000 in bonds that will be paid off over the course of the next 25 years, will cost the average homeowner $11 per year. But the plan still faced opposition in light of a state-mandated maximum tax increase every year for the next seven years, and what officials predicted would be “draconian” cuts to services.
“All those $13 and $15 items add up,” said resident Vic Fanelli, referencing former board member Larry Reid’s concern that there are over 800 line item accounts in the district’s budget.
“I would seriously question whether it would be a smart move to put this referendum out there this year,” said Reid. “Things aren’t going well right now.”
One resident confirmed she’ll vote “no” on the measure, which will be placed on November’s general election ballot.
“By November, I can tell you I’m not voting for anything,” said Melanie Briggs.
Board members touted the referendum as a low-cost mechanism to fund security enhancements that have been recommended by both school officials and the Brick police department. Chief James Riccio will make a presentation on the security upgrades at the Aug. 9 board meeting, Board President Stephanie Wohlrab said.
“In light of the changes in society, I think we’re being reasonable,” said board member John Lamela, who cited the Parkland, Fla. school shooting and plans for 3D-printed guns to potentially be publicly released in the coming weeks.”I think one of the reasons we’re floating this referendum is because we do care.”
Victoria Pakala, another board member, said the security upgrades would help the district meet state and national standards.
“We are totally focused on the safety of our students and teachers, and this is a standard set by the federal government and the state,” she said. “We are going to do what’s best for our students.”
The last major school referendum proposal – which was much larger at $93 million – was soundly defeated. But this year’s question will ask voters for significantly less money.
The funding would provide for:
- Interior renovations at several schools to provide secured vestibules.
- Video surveillance systems that cover all areas of school facilities, including outdoor areas.
- A “situational awareness” technology program known as CLASS (which stands for Crisis Lockdown Alert Status System), which would allow doors to be centrally locked if an intruder were to enter a school building, integrated alerts to police and first responders, panic buttons and strobe lights and an interface paging and mass notification system.
- “Hall Pass” software, a central visitor monitoring system in all 12 schools which would require visitors to scan a government-issued ID upon entry which would be checked against a national criminal database. The software would also print “no-ink” thermal badges and maintain records on every person who enters a school building.