Over the next few years the Freehold borough Schools will face a variety of challenges ranging from an insufficient amount of state aid to overcrowding in the schools.
At Monday night’s board of education meeting Superintendent Rocco Tomazic highlighted some steps he is taking to address those issues. Tomazic said the district also faces issues when it comes to the student population with what he described as “limited English proficiency” for many students and many students also requiring free or reduced lunch to get the basic nutrition they need.
With State Senator Jennifer Beck in attendance Tomazic showed an under adequacy in state aid for the 2012-2013 school year at being $6,756,433 below the amount needed and that number increasing to $7,919,591 for the current school year. He credited the senator with getting the district extra funds last year which would have otherwise made the disparity even greater.
For the current school year the district allocates $11,228 per pupil that is considerably less than the state average of $13,087.
Tomazic said the official prediction for enrollment for the current year was expected to be 1,515. By June that number had already increased to 1,523 and to 1,558 by September. The enrollment is expected to grow to around 1,659 by the start of the 2017-18 school year.
Looking over the next five years Tomazic said plans for the district include looking at more thorough and effective classroom space and figuring out how best to utilize the administrative space.
Working with an architect Tomazic said the district’s facilities already fall below where they should to give the students the best opportunities to succeed. The Freehold Learning Center has a functional capacity of 484 but currently has a student population of 550. Park Avenue Elementary’s capacity is supposed to be 417 but currently has 493 students not counting 98 that use space in the Freehold Township Schools. Only the intermediate school is below capacity but with 408 students they are close to the suggested limit of 425.
In order to remedy the problem Tomazic said the intermediate school would need to add three classrooms and renovate the cafeteria. More drastic changes would be needed for the Learning Center which would need to add 11 classrooms, including some with bathrooms for the youngest students, two resource rooms and changes to the library and cafeteria. Park Avenue would need to add three classrooms in addition to other renovations.
The district is already starting what Tomazic called conceptual planning, looking at ways to make the needed changes while continuing to operate as efficiently as possible. Areas being examined include the gym and cafeteria area at the learning center, what can be done with open space at the learning center and what kind of addition could be added to the facility. They will also look at an addition to Park Avenue.
Plans that are now in the conceptual stage could become fully evolved schematics by January and the costs could be determined as early as February. Tomazic said he hoped to get board approval of the plans and the costs by February and submit the plans to the Department of Education by June. A referendum could then be put to the borough residents as soon as September.
The total amount of the referendum has not been determined but Tomazic said the district has ways of minimizing the burden on the taxpayers including folding into already existing debts. He said the district can fund close to $5 million of new construction without impacting tax bills. The district has also banked a little more than $700,000 and with other funds can add another $2 million to help defray the costs.
If the referendum does pass Tomazic said the final designs could go to the state in March of 2015 with bids advertised by June and awarded by July. The project could then be completed in time for the opening of the school year in 2017.