I’ve lived in Metuchen for 30 years and my children are no longer in the school district, and I am voting yes on the proposed school capital referendum. It will create major capital and programmatic improvements for Metuchen students and will cause a small increase in property taxes relative to the total tax bill.
I use a three-question framework to determine if a policy or budget deserves my vote: What is worth paying for? How much should we pay? Who should pay?
What is worth paying for?
The proposed referendum will pay for capital improvements that are directly tied to educational outcomes. Things like expanded laboratory space and added classrooms have clear educational benefits. But additions such as expanded cafeterias allow for better scheduling, so that students don’t have lunch at absurd times such as 10:45 a.m. All day kindergarten will be a boon to Metuchen families. Only 3% of school districts in New Jersey do not have all day kindergarten.
While the Board has divided the referendum into three packages requiring their own votes, I see educational enhancements in all of the proposed projects, including the athletic related components like refurbishing the football field turf. And we will finally have air conditioning in our schools. One can realistically make the case that there are other benefits that accrue to residents from the referendum, notably increasing the value of our homes. But I believe the referendum is justified by the educational benefits alone.
How much should we pay?
The entire package will cost $70 million, a sum that takes into account supply chain induced inflation and current interest rates. There are offsets. Metuchen received a 22.23% increase in state aid, and the referendum uses capital dollars to house the expanded program paid for by Trenton. I think that is very good planning.
The increase is timed to take effect as two previous bond issues from 1998 and 2004 expire, so that the impact on the tax base is minimized. That is why only $800,000 of the bond is needed for operating costs. The average home in Metuchen will see a tax increase of about $33 per month.
You can use the tax calculator here https://www.metuchenschools.org/page/tax-calculator to see what your exact payment would be. There is no question that $70 million is a lot of money, but we would be getting our money’s worth. We would be paying an appropriate amount for what we receive.
Who should pay?
The referendum brings an immediate benefit to families with children in the schools, for educational outcomes, an enhanced school experience, and competitive advantage for post-high school success. This level of benefit at such a low cost per household could only be had by paying through the tax base.
As mentioned above, the average Metuchen home will see an increase in property taxes of about $33 per month. If history is a guide, residents will see an increase in their property value that is more than commensurate. The value accrues to all Metuchenites, whether or not they have children in the schools.
But my primary reason for voting for the referendum is that we have a responsibility to our students, our town, and our nation. We need to educate our young citizens to take their place in our democracy. We need to do the best job we possibly can as a community. Metuchen’s parents are doing their job; we as voters and concerned citizens need to do ours.
Who should pay? I should. We should. I hope that you feel the same and will vote yes, yes, yes.