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Metuchen BOE reorganizes with focus on physical school building needs

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The Metuchen Board of Education reorganized with a look ahead to the possible school referendum on the horizon to address physical school building needs.

“We have our list of needs and wants, we have our architects, now we need a specific plan and budget,” Board President Justin Manley said at the board’s reorganization meeting on Jan. 7. “We will continue to target Election Day 2020 for a referendum in our next long-term investment in our schools.”

Manley said last year the board held four public meetings, one in each school – Metuchen High School, Edgar Middle School, Campbell Elementary School and Moss School – to discuss the physical needs of the buildings and classroom spaces for 2020 and beyond. The board interviewed four architecture firms and in December reappointed EI Associates, Cedar Knolls, to help lead the district and address immediate and future needs of district.

The last two successful school referendums were held in 1999 and 2005, Manley said.

“Since that time our population has grown, our needs have grown and our spaces have remained fixed,” he said, noting the 133-student graduating class of Metuchen 30 years ago had lunch in the same space his son’s freshman’s class of close to 200 students in 2020.

Manley said Metuchen Mayor Jonathan Busch called for the expansion of recreational programs in his mayoral address on Jan. 1.

“Our students and teens are the biggest consumers of these offerings,” Manley said.

Manley explained that each school needs new expanded cafeterias and gyms, turf at the Edgar Middle School field for the middle school sports program, and turf at Metuchen High School for extended usable time at the field.

“We have roofing, plumbing and HVAC challenges throughout the district we simply can’t ignore,” he said. “I look forward to working with the board and architects to share a plan with [the public] to address all these needs and more.”

Manley said investments to the school district need to be “prudent and thoughtful.”

“I assure [the public] this board will always have its eye on the cost and budget,” he said. “We are investigating ways to finance the long-term investments in the schools in a way to reduce the tax impact.”

Manley noted the tax bonds from previous referendums will expire in 2024 and in 2027.

“We will work with bond counsel to make sure that it plays into our plans,” he said. “In December the board enacted policy to allow us to seek revenue through appropriate advertising places throughout the district. We will continue to advance ideas to seek participation fees for extra curricular activities. With expansion and growth of our offerings, we cannot be continually paid solely and born only by the taxpayer.”

Manley said following through the policy plan to seek revenue for the district, the district may recognize revenue in the 2021 budget.

The board reorganized after School Business Administrator Michael Harvier swore in three incumbents, who ran unopposed in the November election – Alicia Sneddon Killean, who will serve her second term, Jonathan Lifton, who will serve his fourth term, and Eric Suss, who will serve his second term.

The board nominated Manley to serve as board president for his second year and Suss to serve as board vice president.

Manley said last year brought a significant change to Metuchen schools. With guidance from the board, the school administration put into action a plan to ask the voting public to add a significant investment in the mental health and well-being of all students of the Metuchen Public School system.

And as the district moves forward, Manley said the board will continue the 2019 momentum into 2020 as the district implements the initiative; the board will look at ways to expand educational and extracurricular offerings; continue to look at ways to improve math and science from K-12; and ensure all demographics in the borough are seeing same levels of success and growth.

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