Freehold Regional voters reject proposal for improvements at six high schools

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Voters in the Freehold Regional High School District soundly rejected a $39.8 million facilities improvement referendum on Oct. 2. The proposal put forth by the district’s Board of Education was defeated 4,300 “no” to 3,411 “yes,” according to results posted by the Monmouth County Clerk.

The district has eight sending municipalities – Colts Neck, Englishtown, Farmingdale, Freehold Borough, Freehold Township, Howell, Manalapan and Marlboro. Voters in six communities rejected the referendum, while voters in two municipalities narrowly approved the expenditure.

The board proposed alterations, renovations and improvements at the district’s high schools in Colts Neck, Freehold Borough, Freehold Township, Howell, Manalapan and Marlboro. The project had four categories: Safety and Security; Modern Learning Environment; Athletic Facilities; and Infrastructure.

In the wake of the referendum’s defeat, Superintendent of Schools Charles Sampson said, “Sadly, with the defeat of our referendum, we lost an opportunity to enrich the school experience for all of our students. The district’s administration and Board of Education have been astute financial stewards.

“We were one of the first districts in the state to develop an Energy Savings Improvement Plan, which allowed us to bond for projects at no cost to taxpayers and complete almost $20 million worth of infrastructure improvements. We have passed our annual budgets well under the confines of the 2 percent cap on the tax levy, saving taxpayers millions of dollars,” he said.

“We continue to use the economy of scale within our regional setting to deliver a high-quality academic and extracurricular experience for all children at a cost that is almost $3,000 under the statewide average per pupil cost. We waited for the perfect time to propose this referendum, when expiring debt would allow us to both complete the work and deliver a tax decrease.

“The proposed projects would help to ensure a high-quality school system for the foreseeable future. The district also received a promise of state funding to offset the referendum costs, as the state was going to fund almost 30 percent of the entire project; all of these projects completed and Freehold Regional High School District taxes were still going to be reduced.

“The defeat of the referendum coupled with a devastating loss in state aid over the next several years will fundamentally affect the experience for the children of this community. This is not an exaggeration. We stand to lose millions in state aid in the coming years. The referendum would allow for needed capital projects we simply cannot fund within the 2 percent tax levy. With the defeat of the referendum, many of these projects, including significant security upgrades to all schools, are now unlikely to come to fruition,” Sampson said.

According to results posted by the county clerk, voters in Colts Neck rejected the referendum by a count of 843 “no” to 597 “yes.” The vote in Englishtown was 23 “no” to 20 “yes.” The vote in Farmingdale was 41 “no” to 30 “yes.”

The vote in Freehold Borough was 124 “yes” to 105 “no.” The vote in Freehold Township was 687 “no” to 626 “yes.” The vote in Howell was 1,008 “no” to 614 “yes.” The vote in Manalapan was 681 “yes” to 666 “no.” The vote in Marlboro was 927 “no” to 718 “yes.”

District administrators said taxes would decrease regardless of whether the referendum passed or failed. If the referendum passed, taxpayers in all eight municipalities would have seen a 1 percent decrease. With the referendum’s defeat, taxpayers will see a 3 percent decrease.

The decrease in taxes is a result of the debt from the construction of Colts Neck High School being paid off this year, according to the board.

According to district administrators, the Safety and Security initiative would have addressed security vestibules, door lock upgrades and improvements to school public address systems. Upgrades were proposed at each high school.

The Modern Learning Environment initiative proposed the construction of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) classrooms at each high school, auditorium renovations at Freehold High School, and media center renovations at Colts Neck High School.

The Athletic Facilities initiative proposed renovations to the tennis courts and bleachers at each high school, the installation of synthetic turf fields at Freehold Township High School, Manalapan High School and Marlboro High School, and resurfacing Colts Neck’s track.

The Infrastructure initiative proposed repaving high-traffic areas at all six high schools, roofing work at each school (except Howell High School) and the installation of a new boiler at Marlboro.

The eight sending communities in the regional high school district have a total of 150,811 registered voters. According to results posted by the county clerk, there were 9,068 ballots cast in the Oct. 2 election (approximately 6 percent of registered voters.)