frequently asked questions
What residents need to know about GEHR's proposal
A Virtual Town Hall on Sept. 21 gave residents the opportunity to hear from architects about how these improvements could be accomplished. The district's financial adviser explained how $21 million in upgrades can be done within the existing tax rate. GEHR representatives discussed what kinds of positive impacts these projects could have on students and the surrounding communities.
Residents were able to submit questions in advance or during this webinar-style event. Watch the recording, using the schedule as a guide to see the segment(s) of highest interest.
BOND REFERENDUM BASICS
A school district can sell bonds to borrow funds, but it needs permission to do that. A bond referendum asks voters for permission, using referendum” as another word for “vote.” A bond referendum is used specifically for improvements that are large and long-lasting. It cannot be used for daily costs of operations such as paying staff, buying fuel or keeping the lights on.
Funding that comes from a voter-approved bond referendum qualifies for a special kind of state aid – more money that the district can get from the state than its usual aid. For that reason, districts often move those qualified projects out of the regular budget and into a bond-funded budget. This strategic approach opens the door to special state aid that is not available any other way.
The State of New Jersey maintains a fund to help public school districts afford large-scale, long-term projects. Only certain kinds of projects qualify. Revenue collected from all over New Jersey contributes to that fund, but the money is only shared with districts where voters approved the sale of bonds. A bond referendum is an opportunity for GEHR to bring some of those dollars back to the communities.
Bonds are kind of like IOUs. They can be sold, like a company would sell stock, so a public organization can get funds to make improvements that will last for years in the future. Bonds are bought back with interest. A school district uses property taxes for those buy-back payments. For a school district, selling bonds and paying them back over time is similar to the way a homeowner might take a loan to renovate a kitchen or make other upgrades.
What kinds of improvements have been made without bond borrowing?
The administration and Board of Education continually make room in the annual operating budget for school improvements. In the past two years, the annual budget has funded the lease of new computers and technology infrastructure, updated security cameras at Cedar Creek, and updated phone systems for all three schools. It also funded the construction of instructional kitchens for the Culinary Program at Oakcrest and Absegami and gym upgrades, including new scoreboards and fresh paint for floors and ceilings. With federal funding related to the pandemic, we made significant HVAC improvements and removed those projects from our referendum plan. The annual budget is focused on day-to-day needs and includes some larger projects, while a bond-funded budget is only for capital projects and cannot cover operating costs such as salaries and utilities. The projects included in a bond referendum qualify for state aid, and Greater Egg has proposed improvements that meet the state’s criteria for maximum funding.
With voter approval, the Absegami trailers that haven’t been used in a decade would be replaced by a basketball court and enable a back-building entrance for athletes. Absegami would gain many new exterior doors for better efficiency and security. Bleachers in the Main Gym would be replaced, as would the auditorium’s lighting and sound system and the Wood Shop’s dust collection system. The wall to the courtyard would be improved with doors to provide easy access from the Media Center, so Absegami students can use that outdoor space the same way Cedar Creek students use theirs. The existing stadium would be improved with a new, multi-sport turf field; resurfaced track; LED lighting on the current poles; and repairs for the Field House. The grass varsity soccer field would be upgraded. The JV baseball, softball and soccer fields would benefit from new irrigation measures. A new scoreboard would be installed. Tennis courts would be resurfaced. The front drive and parking area would be repaved, walkways at the auxiliary gym would be rebuilt, and new walkways would be created to the tennis courts.
Oakcrest is proposed to benefit from new bleachers for the gym, improved lighting and sound system for the auditorium, and an upgraded dust collection system for the Wood Shop. Its stadium area would gain a turf field, LED lighting on existing poles, repairs for the Field House, paving for existing gravel/dirt paths, and a new parking lot with accessible routes to the stadium. The JV fields would benefit from expanded irrigation measures, and a new scoreboard would be installed. The track and tennis courts would be resurfaced, and drainage in the parking lot nearby would be improved.
Bond-funded improvements proposed for Cedar Creek include new hardware on many exterior doors for better security. The existing stadium would gain a multi-sport turf field with a resurfaced track. New LED lighting would extend the time that activities could take place there, and add the “Friday Night Lights” vibe that other communities enjoy. Outside the track would be a concessions stand and restrooms. A new scoreboard would be installed. The tennis courts would be resurfaced. The soccer field would be re-graded to address flooding. Inside, Cedar Creek’s auditorium would be upgraded with a new sound system and LED lighting.
The timing of the referendum for Oct. 6 is ideal for work to start in June 2023. Voter approval would allow the development of more detailed plans, competitive bids for the work, and ordering of equipment. Work would be concentrated in the summers of 2023 and 2024 to minimize the disruption of academic or athletic schedules.
The fields at our schools see a lot of action, and it is difficult for the grass to regenerate. Add the increasing trend of all-or-nothing rainfall, and those fields become pitted dustbowls before seasons are complete. Simple irrigation systems will bring water when and where it is needed to keep those fields in better shape for our student athletes.
The grass fields at our schools do not drain rainwater quickly, which is a common problem with wide-open athletic fields. Centers are typically slightly elevated so that water moves off the field, which means it pools at the perimeters. In contrast, turf fields are installed with drainage systems underneath. It is such a problem that the state will provide about 60% of the funds for drainage systems that would channel water away from the turf fields in this bond proposal.
The student athletes of GEHR practice on grass but often play on the turf fields of their opponents, and installing turf at our schools would make “playing surface” more equal in competition. For athletes, and the residents who want to see them play, repeated schedule changes are a common nuisance when rain forces schedule changes long after drops stop falling. Even with regular use in good weather, a grass field endures wear that leads to an uneven surface. Turf has the advantage of standing up to rain and frequent use. It requires periodic maintenance, but not the costs of weekly mowing and re-striping.
Why do the auditorium sound boards need to be replaced?
Replacing the soundboards in our auditoriums is a much-needed improvement. The current soundboards have become obsolete with time and are difficult for our schools to maintain as a result. Having an up-to-date sound board not only allows our students to experience a more modern sound system, but would also allow interface with other equipment, including wireless microphones. Updating this equipment is vital to ensure our theater and performance arts programs are on par with other schools; provide a more accurate experience for students who continue performing professionally; and achieve a more sustainable and relevant sound system for use by current and future students.
How would new stadium lights offer advantages for several sports?
Current lights at Oakcrest and Absegami are not as bright as modern, efficient LED lights. They leave some areas of the field darker than others. They are not as bright as necessary to spot something as small as a lacrosse ball in low-light conditions. Cedar Creek does not have any lights at its stadium. The LED lights that are proposed for all three stadiums would provide nearly twice the level of illumination as current lights. They would include hoods to direct more lighting onto the field with less "light spillage," in non-technical terms. Surrounding a turf field striped for multiple sports, the improvement would provide a consistent standard of lighting for girls field hockey, boys football, girls and boys lacrosse, girls and boys soccer and marching band -- in addition to any other activity in our stadiums.
What are the advantages of LED lighting in the schools’ auditoriums?
LED lighting is not only less expensive and easier for our schools to maintain, but it also provides the most enjoyable atmosphere for our students and guests. LED lighting would enable us to illuminate the auditorium effectively while also producing less heat for the performers on stage. LED lights last longer than alternatives as well, meaning that we would not need to spend money and time to install new bulbs as frequently. This option is less expensive, more effective, longer lasting and more sustainable than alternatives.
Some areas of our schools were built before the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) defined ways to make areas more accessible for people with mobility challenges. Large-scale upgrades, like the ones proposed in the referendum, present the opportunity to make these areas more welcoming. Examples include the new gym bleachers proposed for Absegami and Oakcrest, which would be similar to the ones at Cedar Creek. At ground level, a small section of the bleachers could be pushed in enough to allow someone to sit in a wheelchair but still be alongside their fellow spectators. In several locations, pathways to stadiums, courts and fields would be easier to navigate. At Cedar Creek, a new field house with accessible restrooms would be more convenient than the current portable toilets.
Our buildings needed upgrades to the Heating, Ventilation, Air Conditioning and Cooling (HVAC) systems, and those were originally planned to be part of the referendum. However, the district received nearly $9 million of federal funding tied to COVID recovery for schools. Much of that was spent on Chromebooks for students, staffing for health-related needs and instructional catch-up, and tents for outdoor lunch periods. Certain costs related to air quality also qualified, and GEHR strategically used $5.5 million in federal funding for projects that were on the district's HVAC to-do list. As a result, the referendum plan, and the cost associated that would have fallen directly to our taxpayers, was reduced.
The total value of the improvements proposed for all three high schools is estimated at $21,013,875. That includes not just the work to be done, but the professional and permit fees to support it. State aid would contribute $8,871,487 to reduce the amount on local property tax bills. GEHR will use $1.25 million of its Capital Reserve “savings” fund, leaving $10,892,388 to be paid from future local property taxes. The district can pay back that amount within the existing tax rate for GEHR debt.
Why aren’t detailed costs publicized before the vote?
Public school districts cannot agree to buy products or contract for services of this large scale without a competitive bidding process. Through that process, a district describes in detail what it wants to buy or renovate and shares that information with anyone who might be interested in the work. Businesses submit their price quotes in sealed envelopes, so no one has the advantage of knowing what others are willing to do the work for. The district opens all those envelopes at once, in public. If the Board of Education decides to accept any of the bids, it must be the one that can do that work at the lowest price. A bond referendum is planned with cost estimates, and costs are finalized after the bidding process. Publicizing the estimates in advance can spoil the competitive bidding process.
Our district is paying off the costs of a previous voter-approved referendum. Taking care of long-term projects, and using state aid to reduce local costs, means rolling those tax payments into a new investment. That approach keeps the tax rate steady, keeps the facilities maintained, and uses a special kind of state aid to pay some of the costs. What GEHR proposes is similar to the approach some families take: Finish paying off one car, then shift the payments toward replacing an older car. For property owners in the GEHR communities, these improvements can be made within the current rate for GEHR debt tax.
If voters reject this proposal, why would the property tax decrease be as slight as $20 a year?
GEHR is paying off the costs of a previous referendum that voters approved 20 years ago for the good of their communities. Without a new investment to take its place, the school debt tax would fall by about $20 to $22 a year. That’s a range based on averages and location: A home assessed at the average in each of the four communities that make up GEHR. While $21 million is a big number, that amount would be reduced by state aid – leaving the local share of the payback at $12.2 million. It would be further reduced by $1.25 million from the district's Capital Reserves – funding that is held for specific capital improvements. The remaining $10.8 million would be spread over 20 years and across all the property owners in four communities. The strategy of renewing the level of investment keeps the tax rate steady, keeps the facilities maintained, and uses a special kind of state aid to pay for a significant portion of the costs.
The annual budget funds our educational program and covers costs of day-to-day operations such as salaries, supplies and regular maintenance for our three high schools. It is difficult to find room in that annual budget for large-scale improvements. Even if the Board of Education chose to find room, there is an advantage to putting certain projects in a bond-funded budget. That method qualifies them for state aid. It is a strategic move to group qualified projects as part of a bond referendum with state aid rather than to include them in the annual budget without that special kind of aid.
What can’t the district spend just the state aid and not ask voters to approve more funding?
The special state aid for these kinds of capital improvements is distributed only to districts where voters approved bond funding. It is similar to a matching grant: Voters agree to pay more locally, and then the state contributes to the costs. The state aid does not come without a passing vote. All taxpayers in the state pay into that state aid fund, and this is a chance for the people of Greater Egg to bring some of the money back. If not, it will go to other communities where voters approved bonds.
How has the Board kept costs under control for the regular, annual budget?
Local property tax revenue makes up most of the annual operating budget, which covers costs that typically rise each year (including salaries, supplies, fuel and utilities). In New Jersey, school boards can make budgets with a 2% cost increase compared to the previous year; they don’t need voter approval if they stay under that 2% cap. In Greater Egg, the Board has balanced cost increases with cost cutting to keep the operating budget in the range of a 1% increase for the past two years. The operating budget is always separate from the bond-funded budget. The Board has a history of minimal tax increases for the operating budget, and the proposed improvements could be done with no increase to the current debt tax rate.
LEARNING MORE & VOTING
Why is this vote on a Thursday?
Votes are usually on a Tuesday, but the state Department of Education changed that in 2022 because the planned date conflicted with a religious observance. The date for all special school elections planned for October, including the GEHR bond referendum, is Thursday, Oct. 6.