DENNSIVILLE – Dennis Township School District officials attended Dennis Township Committee’s Nov. 16 meeting to inform the governing body of their plans to improve facilities and seek support with taxpayers to fund the work.
Superintendent Susan Speirs, accompanied by Board of Education members, a representative from Garrison Architects - the firm which prepared plans with offices in Bellmawr - and the school’s facility manager, started the briefing by noting, “We serve, for this school year, 623 students, which is an increase from 2019 when our school enrollment was 593.
"We have two school buildings: The primary school for grades pre-K to second grade was built in 2004 and the original elementary/middle school building we are still using for grades three through eight was built in 1950.
"Over the years, we have been diligently maintaining the buildings as best we could using our capital budget. However, there are several serious issues, including roofing and HVAC, that really need replacement, as well as other structural problems that must be taken care of. Our buildings also need interior renovations, including ceilings, installation of new pipe insulation, and painting."
She said that under state law, the school district could tap into state funding for 40% of the projects "if we incur debt through a bond to finance them, which our consultant has estimated to cost $9,452,651," noting they already have the necessary approvals.
She added that to cover the expenses, the district is planning to incur debt that must be approved by a taxpayer referendum, which they proposed for Jan. 25.
School officials explained three funding proposals that would be options to pay for the projects.
The first option is the school board would finance the elementary/middle school project for $5 million. The net tax impact per municipal home would be zero. In this case, there would be no state aid to cover any cost of the project.
The second option is the board would finance renovations of both school buildings at a cost of the full $9.452 million and use $1.5 million of “ESSER” funds resulting in $7.952 million funding to be financed (ESSER is an acronym standing for Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief whose funds were established by the 2021 pandemic relief CARES Act to provide direct money to states and districts most impacted by the disruption and closure of schools because of Covid).
The board said it could use $273,000 from its capital reserve to offset the first principal payment, thus leveraging the 40% state aid without a significant interest penalty. The net tax impact of this option would be $21 per home per year or $1.77 per month.
The third option is funding for renovations for both schools with the board financing the full $9.452 million, with a total net tax impact of $38 annually per home or $3.17 per month.
Initial questions from committee members zeroed in on both the necessity of “high-quality” metal roofing materials versus asphalt shingles and whether it was realistic to hold a standalone funding referendum Jan. 25.
School officials said their “bond consultant had advised to hold the referendum Jan. 25 because of the favorable timing that an existing bond is expiring in April and thus taxpayers would perhaps not notice the tax continuation as a result of the new funding.”
“For a project of this size and cost, I think it would be prudent to have a second opinion and another set of eyes looking at everything,” said Mayor Zeth Matalucci.
“Also, it might be good to think about scaling back costs,” he continued.
School officials noted, however, that “for example, for the higher-cost metal for the roofing, the warranty would be 30 years rather than the 20 years of asphalt, so the additional money would be well spent.”
School officials emphasized that they were seeking the support of the committee for the renovations for both schools and to help them engage the community at large to understand the necessity of the projects and then back the referendum by a simple majority to fund the costs.
While school officials do not yet have a planned town hall meeting or other outreach to connect with and engage residents and taxpayers, they said this is an initiative they are hoping to organize.
Regarding the Jan. 25 referendum date, school representatives said they would consider moving it to April or even June when primaries are held and thus Jan. 25 standalone voting costs would not fall solely on the school, and they would also have more time to prepare.
To contact Camille Sailer, email firstname.lastname@example.org.