Poor economy, residents’ input kill school-repairs vote this year

School officials concentrating instead on April 20 solar energy referendum


The Brick Township Board of Education has abandoned plans for a fullscale referendum this year and will instead concentrate on an energy-savings measure.

School officials had originally intended to move forward with a revised school repair referendum in March. But residents who responded to an online survey and attended several public input meetings weren’t enthusiastic, school officials said.

“It doesn’t seem to be a good time financially, economically and with not knowing what’s going to happen with state aid,” schools Superintendent Walter J. Hrycenko said. “It’s not a good time to be pushing this right now.”

Voters here resoundingly defeated all four questions in the $172.9 million Sept. 29 referendum by a 2-to-1 margin. Of Brick’s 81,840 voters, 14,716, or 17.98 percent, went to the polls, according to the Ocean County Clerk’s Office. The district could have received $57 million in state grants if all four questions had been approved.

Board members late last year began working on a revised, scaled-down repairs referendum, held several public meetings on the topic and posted an online survey for residents.

They came to a decision at a recent board retreat meeting where they discussed district and board goals, Hrycenko said.

“No one felt comfortable that the referendum would move forward at this time,” Hrycenko said. “Based on what we saw in the survey and what we heard in the community meetings, the energy-related projects are the ones they were most supportive of.”

Board of Education President Daniel Woska said in a letter posted on the district’s website that the state School Development Authority recently put a freeze on construction grant money. And the state Department of Education is also considering forcing school districts to use reserve funds to offset losses in state aid.

“The [state] fiscal situation isn’t good,” school Business Administrator James Edwards said. “Therefore, we’d be lucky if we were flat-funded. It’s not looking good.”

“That’s what played a role in why the March referendum is not going to happen,” Hrycenko said. “We’d be asking people to approve a referendum with a lot of uncertainties.”

Instead, a solar panel referendum will have “zero tax impact” for voters, he said.

The Sept. 29 referendum dealt with safety and security upgrades; replacing heating and air-conditioning units and lighting in all schools; the installation of solar panels in two middle schools; the expansion of the Primary Learning Center on Chambers Bridge Road, and a massive $90.8 million renovation of Brick Township High School.

“The Board of Education is very committed to the projects proposed in the September referendum,” Woska said. “This is why we decided to first focus on an energysavings referendum in an attempt to decrease the tax burden being passed down to us by the state and generate the additional revenue needed to make building repairs before conditions worsen.”

“We know these repairs have to get done,” Hrycenko said. “We will continue to work on them any way we can. Back in September, we got $57 million in grants. There was no discussion as to whether that money would be there or not. There weren’t all these question marks. It’s not that we are abandoning them. Some repairs will be done in the solar panel referendum.”

The Board of Education has not determined the exact amount or scope of the solar panel referendum yet, Edwards said.

“It’s yet to be seen,” he said. “We have to do an analysis of all the roofs to determine what roofs are ideal for putting solar panels on, how much kilowatts will be generated. We really don’t know the answer to that until more work is done. Once we know what that number is, it will give us a clear indication of how many projects we can do where there is no impact on taxpayers.”

The district would not realize any revenue from the panels until 2011, since bids have to go out and contracts awarded before the panels are up and running, Edwards said.