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Brick School Referendum Off the Table, For Now

Brick Township Board of Education/Schools (Photo: Daniel Nee)

Brick Township Board of Education/Schools (Photo: Daniel Nee)

Brick school officials say there is not an impending vote on whether to hold a referendum to allow the district to raise taxes that would fund various improvements to school buildings.

Shorebeat, through a request under the state’s Open Public Records Act, revealed that the district in December received two proposals for referendum designs. In January, the Board of Education voted to give itself the ability to choose one – the proposal from Netta Architects – to prepare bid specifications. The Netta proposal received in December included $71 million of projects, most of which focused on upgrades and new construction for sports facilities, as well as a suite of security improvements. Voters rejected a $12 million referendum last year.

“Nothing is off the table as we seek a future legacy for Brick Township schools,” Board President Stephanie Wohlrab said at a board meeting last week, but a referendum is not presently in the cards.

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Wohlrab said district officials will wait until a slew of studies are conducted under the leadership of incoming superintendent Thomas G. Farrell, who will begin work in Brick March 2. The board will also organize a “vision planning committee” made up of stakeholders in the district which will convene focus groups with “parents, students, community and industry leaders, school board members, administrators, district employees and non-parent residents.”

“Until then we will not move forward with a referendum,” Wohlrab said, adding that Farrell is expected to conduct a demographic study, feasibility study, detailed audit and cash-flow analysis.

The incoming superintendent will also work with colleagues in central administration to develop three and five-year financial plans, including outlooks on how the district will survive impending state funding cuts to the tune of $23 million per year.

The shift to longer-term planning will mark the latest test for the district’s leadership as the slash in funding from Trenton is implemented over the next five years – a product of S2, a bill sponsored by state Sen. Steve Sweeney (D-Gloucester) and signed into law by Gov. Phil Murphy under a deal hatched two years ago to avoid a state government shutdown.

“There is no quick fix, no magic want and no easy way out,” said Wohlrab. “Our children, staff and community will be different by the time this is all over.”

Wohlrab, responding to a question from resident Vic Fanelli, said both Netta and the other firm that submitted a proposal, The Musial Group, did not charge taxpayers for preparing the documentation. The board authorized up to $25,000 for Netta if the firm is formally tasked with authoring bid specifications in the future.

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