Edison BOE will explore next steps after referendum defeat

EDISON – The Edison Board of Education (BOE) plans to meet to explore the next steps after voters defeated what officials called “a much needed” $183.12 million bond referendum.

Board President Ralph Errico expressed disappointment after the results came in on March 10.

“I’m very disappointed in the results and more disappointed for our children and their futures,” he said. “The board [BOE] will meet and explore our next steps in resolving our massive overcrowding [in the Edison Public School District].”

The unofficial results for the referendum are 2,855 “yes” votes and 4,643 “no” votes, according to School Business Administrator Dan Michaud.

For an average home assessed at a value of $179,000, the tax impact of the proposed referendum would have been $215 a year, $18 per month, or 16 cents a day, officials said.

This is the second defeated bond referendum in four months – voters defeated a $189.5 million bond referendum on Dec. 10. With students literally learning in closets and trailers and eating lunch in classrooms, the need for more space in the Edison Public Schools has been evident, officials have maintained.

Currently, Edison Public Schools, which has 19 buildings – two high schools, four middle schools, nine elementary schools, one intermediate school, one primary school, the education center and the operation of a preschool program – has 2,919 students without a seat.

For the past year, the district had been working with SSP Architects, Bridgewater, to address the overcrowding issues. They proposed a referendum to provide the necessary additional space to the six neediest schools in the district – John P. Stevens High School, Edison High School, John Adams Middle School, James Madison Intermediate, and John Marshall and Lincoln elementary schools – not only to fix the overcrowding issues now, but for future generations to come.

Schools Superintendent Bernard F. Bragen Jr., who began his role as superintendent a day before voters defeated the initial referendum, noted the high schools are currently overcrowded significantly with 2,600 students at J. P. Stevens, 2,100 students at Edison High and larger classes coming every year from the third grade and up.

He said although projections in 10 years from the district’s demographer show student enrollment leveling off mostly at the elementary level, but not so much secondary, the school facilities need immediate attention.

After the defeat in December, Bragen had said the district “spent a lot of time looking at the referendum information and looking at overcrowding at all schools in the district.”

Bragen, in a letter on the school website, said the district has more than 5,000 unhoused students, according to the State Facilities Efficiency Standards. A student is considered unhoused when the number of students exceeds the allocated square footage of the building. Using the District Practice threshold, the district has nearly 3,000 unhoused students.

The Edison Finance and Facilities Committee approved the proposed $183 million bond referendum proposal and the Edison Board of Education (BOE) approved the proposal at a meeting on Jan. 27.

Bragen had said the quick turnaround in referendums was “due to the extreme pressing need to address the overcrowding issue that will become increasingly more dire as time goes on.”

The BOE has been addressing the overcrowding issues in a piecemeal fashion, with either annual capital expenditures or lease-purchase agreements – $4-$5 million – including additions recently placed on Menlo Park and Woodbrook elementary schools and the portable classrooms built at Woodrow Wilson Middle School and FDR Preschool Building.

Contact Kathy Chang at kchang@newspapermediagroup.com.