|Board of Education|
Bayberry School Hours:
8:45 a.m. - 3:25 p.m.
One Session Day
8:45 a.m. - 1:00 p.m.
10:45 a.m. - 3:25 p.m.
Students arriving after 8:45 a.m. will be marked as tardy.
Valley View Middle School Hours:
8:15 a.m. - 2:55 p.m.
One Session Day
8:15 a.m. - 12:30 p.m.
10:15 a.m. - 2:55 p.m.
Students arriving after 8:15 a.m. will be marked as tardy.
Referendum 2021: Frequently Asked Questions
Watchung Borough School District serves over 600 students and families residing in Watchung Borough. Students in grades PK-4 attend Bayberry Elementary School, and students in grades 5-8 attend Valley View Middle School. Watchung students attend Watchung Hills Regional High School.
The Watchung Borough School District is committed to inspiring learners to explore, inquire, and collaborate on their joyful journey toward discovery, independent thinking, and creative problem solving. Our culture of acceptance and inclusion provides the foundation for learning and social and emotional growth. Through reflection and ethical decision-making, we continue to learn and grow, embrace differences, and prepare for an increasingly complex, ever-changing world.
Q1: What is a referendum?
Q2: Why is the Board of Education having a referendum?
Q3: What is Debt Service Aid?
Q4: What is the percentage of Debt Service Aid funding that the district will receive to support the projects included in the referendum?
Q5: What is the advantage of a referendum in lieu of paying for project(s) through the school budget or the capital reserve account?
Q6: What are the projects included in the referendum?
Q7: How were the projects identified?
Q8: What are the costs of projects included in the referendum?
Q9: What contingencies are in place in the case of cost overruns?
Q10: What are the total costs of the referendum?
Q11: What is the tax impact to the residents of the community?
Q12: What happens if the referendum passes?
Q13: What happens if the referendum does not pass?
Q14: Why can these projects not be completed with the annual capital budget?
Q15: When is the referendum?
A referendum is a request for voter approval of a special initiative to finance capital improvement projects that cannot be included in the Board’s regular operating budget, which is limited by an annual increase cap of 2% of the local tax levy. A majority of voters in a special election must approve the referendum. The underlying purpose is to improve the quality of our schools for all students.
More specifically, a bond referendum allows the Board of Education to borrow funds to finance the designated projects at each school. It also allows the board to apply for state funds. In our case, the state has deemed 96% of the projects eligible to receive debt service aid, which means that the state will fund approximately 34% of the costs of the eligible projects. The Board of Education will work with its financial advisers and legal counsel to sell bonds to fund the projects.
The Board is committed to providing a first-rate educational experience for all students. In the development of its long-range facilities plan (LRFP), the board identified facility infrastructure and renovation projects that will allow the district to ensure the continued safe operation and maintenance of its school buildings and create new learning opportunities by transforming outdated rooms into 21st-century learning spaces. Much of the infrastructure is beyond its useful life, making the timing of the replacements and upgrades critical.
Benefits of the proposed referendum include:
- Taking advantage of state funding through debt service aid to reduce the cost to taxpayers;
- Proposing a fiscally responsible plan for ensuring the continued safe operation of our buildings and grounds;
- Aligning our learning spaces with our district vision to inspire our students and staff as they learn and grow in schools the entire Watchung community will be proud of.
Highlights of the proposed referendum include:
- Creating healthy, well-ventilated learning environments with improved HVAC filtering systems;
- Replacing major building systems, which have exceeded their useful life and are in danger of imminent failure;
- Reducing energy costs through a new building management system;
- Investing in improved security of the buildings;
- Upgrading facilities to provide healthy, contemporary work spaces for faculty and staff;
- Enhancing facility accessibility for people with physical disabilities in our community;
- Updating technology infrastructure to complement the 21st-century learning spaces and provide the foundation for virtual learning in a post-pandemic world;
- Preparing our students for high school, college, and a lifetime of learning and working in a global community.
Debt service aid is funding made available to school districts to cover a percentage of the costs for designated projects associated with a referendum. Through payment of state taxes, New Jersey residents, including all Watchung taxpayers, provide the resources for debt service aid and similar state funding. The aid is available to all school districts who pass a referendum. If our district does not take advantage of this opportunity, another New Jersey district will.
The total cost of all of the projects is $14,978,371. The cost of the Bayberry Elementary School eligible projects is $7,674,804. The total cost of the Valley View Middle School eligible projects is $6,694,659. The full list of projects also include $608,908 for upgrades at Valley View Middle School that are not eligible for state debt service aid. The New Jersey Department of Education has determined that 96% of the projects are eligible for debt service aid. Accordingly, the district would receive approximately $4,885,617 (34% of the cost of the eligible projects).
The overall scope and costs of the projects are too large to be financed through the district’s annual budget, which is limited by an annual increase cap of 2% of the local tax levy. Additionally, projects that are financed through the annual budget or capital reserve account without a referendum would not receive any state aid, depriving the taxpayers of an opportunity to defray the costs of the projects by one third.
Projects at Both Schools
Exterior Door Upgrades
Interior Wall Repairs
Upgrades/Additions to Building Security
Exterior Walkway Replacements
Classroom Casework/Locker Replacement
Upgrades to Electrical System
Site ADA Upgrades
Valley View Middle School
Acoustic Upgrades for Music Rooms
Faculty Room Upgrades
Media Center Conversion to Learning Commons
Renovations to Playing Fields
Addition of Outdoor Learning Commons
Replacement of Displaced Storage
Art Studio Expansion and Alteration
Bayberry Elementary School
Plumbing System Upgrades
Media Center Carpet Replacement
Site Lighting Improvements
The district developed a Long-Range Facility Plan (LRFP), which is required by the New Jersey Department of Education on a periodic basis. Part of the LRFP includes a Facilities Conditions Assessment (FCA), which is an inventory developed by the architectural and engineering professionals, in consultation with the administration, staff, and board. The FCA is designed to highlight the deficiencies within the facilities. The Facility Conditions Assessment can be found at the Watchung Borough School District Referendum 2021 webpage.
A detailed description of the costs associated with each project can be found at the Watchung Borough School District Referendum 2021 webpage.
The New Jersey Department of Education (NJDOE) allows for contingencies of up to 30% of the budgeted construction costs that meet the industry standard. The 30% contingency is included in the total project costs of $14,978,371 and covers NJDOE fees, architectural and engineering design fees, design contingencies, bonding and legal fees, construction management fees, testing fees, environmental consultant fees, permit fees, and a construction contingency of 15%. The construction contingency is designed to cover unforeseen conditions in the field and protect against the market volatility in the construction market.
The average tax impact for the average homeowner will be $267 per year. (The prior referendum was over $800 per year.) This calculation is based on the assessed value of the average home of $730,568 in Watchung Borough. A tax impact table can be found at the Watchung Borough School District Referendum 2021 webpage.
The district will engage the architectural/engineering professional to develop bid specifications to the level consistent with public bidding. The project will be designed, bid, and constructed over a period of approximately 3 years.
The district can choose to reevaluate the projects included in the referendum, make adjustments, and hold another special election at a later date. Or the district can forgo the opportunity to receive state funding, decline to pursue the enhanced learning spaces, and continue general maintenance of the infrastructure without any reasonable assurance that the building systems will not fail. In the event of such a failure that leaves the school buildings uninhabitable, the district would have to make difficult decisions among unattractive options for continuing instruction, including the possibility of all virtual learning.
The overall scope and costs of the projects are too large to be funded through the annual school budget which is limited by an annual increase cap of 2% of the local tax levy. Additionally, projects that are financed through the annual budget or capital reserve account without a referendum would not receive any state aid, depriving the taxpayers of an opportunity to defray the costs of the projects by one third.
The vote will be held December 14, 2021.
Contact the Somerset County Clerk's office at 908-231-7013 for information about how to vote including how to request a mail-in ballot.