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Manalapan-Englishtown school board takes step toward referendum

With an eye toward two referendum questions that would propose new classroom
space and air conditioning at various school campuses, the Manalapan-Englishtown
Regional School District Board of Education has authorized an architect to begin the
process that could bring those proposals before voters in the two towns that
comprise the district.

On Feb. 6, board members voted to authorize the architectural firm of Fraytak Veisz
Hopkins Duthie, P.C., to provide pre-referendum design services, referendum,
construction and post-construction services in accordance with a proposal that was
submitted on Nov. 2.

According to a resolution the board passed, the pre-referendum design services to
be completed by the architect will be fully credited to the board toward a basic
service contract upon being engaged to provide full project services after a
successful referendum. Pre-construction/referendum planning, including all
reimbursable items, will be $12,500, according to the resolution.

In an interview on Feb. 8, Superintendent of Schools John J. Marciante Jr. said the
board is considering asking residents in Manalapan and Englishtown to approve the
construction of four kindergarten classrooms at the Lafayette Mills School and the
addition of four kindergarten classrooms at the John I. Dawes Early Learning Center.

He said a second referendum question would ask voters to approve the completion
of infrastructure work that would result in all of the district’s schools being fully air
conditioned. At this time, there is no estimate for the cost of the work the board
would like to undertake, according to the superintendent.

The district educates children in pre-kindergarten through eighth grade and has an
enrollment of 5,100 students.

Marciante said kindergarten enrollment has been increasing since the district
moved from a half-day program to a full-day program several years ago. One
kindergarten class has 23 pupils, and most of the classes have 21 or 22 pupils,
according to the superintendent.

Marciante said administrators would like to be able to offer kindergarten classes of
17 or 18 pupils. Kindergarten classes are held at the early learning center and at the
Taylor Mills, Clark Mills and Milford Brook schools.

Children who live in the Lafayette Mills and Wemrock Brook School sending areas
attend kindergarten at the early learning center. The referendum, if approved,
would create kindergarten classrooms at Lafayette Mills and add kindergarten
classrooms at the early learning center, the superintendent said.

Regarding air conditioning, the Lafayette Mills, Clark Mills, Milford Brook, Taylor
Mills and Pine Brook schools are not fully air conditioned.

“It is the inequity of instruction, that is where the board is coming from,” Marciante
said. “The schools are the only place, other than when children are outside, where
they are in a non-air conditioned environment.”

He said there is a difference between children who are trying to learn in a
comfortable environment and children who are trying to learn in a building that is
not air conditioned. He said the issue for the school board is one of equity.

Marciante said board members are hoping to be able to place the referendum
questions on the November general election ballot. If that is not possible, the
questions could be placed before voters in a special election in December.

Any plans that are developed by the board’s architect will require approval from the
state Department of Education, and the department’s review schedule will dictate
when the questions can be placed on the ballot, he said.

The superintendent said he expects to present preliminary information regarding
the plans at PTA meetings in March. Additional information will be shared with the
community as the plans become more specific.

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