MLSD Referendum 2017: Building the Schools Our Students Deserve
Q:  Why are we considering a referendum?
A:  This is a program driven referendum.  With the exception of necessary improvements to school security and bathroom facilities, this referendum proposal design includes renovation and expansion of instructional spaces that will improve the quality and breadth of our program offerings K-12.  We are contending with:
  • Aging Facilities:  In several areas, our facilities are inadequate and in need of significant repairs.
  • Makeshift Classrooms: Many of our programs take place in spaces not intended for instruction.
  • Program Limitations:  Students’ curricular options at the high school are limited due to lack of instructional space and we have not removed any of the temporary classroom units that were put in place during the 2003 Referendum because they are still heavily utilized.
  • Our buildings were constructed prior to the current crisis in school security: A substantial investment in school security improvements is needed in all of our schools.
Q:  What are the primary focus areas of this referendum proposal? 
A: School security upgrades at all schools and the following building specific items:
  • MLHS:  Removal of temporary classroom units, a net addition of 12 classrooms, relocation of the Board of Education Offices to the school, renovation of the auditorium, expansion of the stage, creation of a stage craft area, renovation of the choir room, addition of a dance studio and Black Box Theater/Small Auditorium, auxiliary gymnasium seating, kitchen addition and cafeteria expansion and renovation.
  • BRIARCLIFF:  Relocation of main office. Expansion and renovation of the kitchen and cafeteria. Renovation of the art room, gym and locker rooms. Creation of a 6th grade science lab, choir room, band room, TV Production Studio, and Maker Lab. 
  • WILDWOOD:  Creation of a band and art room, additional classroom, and outdoor learning center. Renovation of the restrooms, main office, tech lab and library.  Expanded kitchen and cafeteria.
  • HEALTH & WELLNESS CENTER:  Creation of a facility to house an additional gymnasium, locker rooms, weight training room and athletic trainer’s suite.  Replacement of existing home and away bleachers at Wilkins Field.
Q:  Why does the high school need 12 new classrooms?
A: Currently the high school is operating at full capacity in terms of room utilization.  In some areas, we would like to split larger classes but we are unable to because we don’t have the classrooms to absorb the additional sections.  Further, we are limited in the programs that we can offer, for example, we have a student demand for Forensics Science courses, Biotechnology courses and additional Advanced Placement courses including Psychology and Human Geography, as well as a language lab where students could pursue language courses not offered through our traditional curriculum.  The addition of these classrooms would result in tremendous program expansion and the smaller class sizes and personal instruction that have been the hallmark of our highly successful school district.
Q:  Why do we need security upgrades?  Are our schools safe?
A: School security is our primary concern and the district has made tremendous improvements in school security within the context of our regular school budget.  For example, we have secured main entrances and installed additional video surveillance at each of our schools.  This year we invited school security experts from the Morris County Prosecutor’s Office to each of our schools for a complete school security and safety audit.  Some procedural recommendations were enacted immediately; others require a more substantial investment and remodeling of certain areas of the buildings.  While the results of this assessment are confidential, the Superintendent will gladly meet with any community member who would like to know about the state of security in our schools and our future goals in this critical area.
Q:  The renovations to the high school auditorium seem quite expensive; do we really need all that work?
A: Back in the 1970’s, the high school auditorium was constructed on a very tight budget and it was vastly underfunded.  Therefore, there is no area to build sets, no changing rooms, no space for scenery and sets, no built in audio equipment, and cinder block walls and tile floors that are not conducive to an acceptable acoustic experience.  The rear of the auditorium is in complete disrepair with non functioning dividing walls, and entry and exit doors that are not compliant with today’s safety codes.  Further, the tablets in the teaching stations are non existent and students have to work with their books in their laps and no desks and many of the chairs are broken and need to be replaced.
Q:  What STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math) facilities are included in this referendum?
A:  The New Jersey State Report Card, a basis for school rankings, evaluates schools on an array of criteria including student participation in the arts and student access to technology rich classrooms.  This referendum represents a dedication to STEAM based curricular activities with state of the art science labs, maker and robotics spaces, a TV Studio, and a biotechnology lab. In addition, our participation in the arts is exceptional, so strong, in fact, that we do not have the instructional spaces to dedicate to all of the programs that we run.  With this proposal, each of our schools will have appropriate spaces for vocal and instrumental bands. 
Q:  What is a black box theater/mini auditorium and why do we need one?
A:  A black box theater/mini auditorium is a more intimate performance space than our existing auditorium.  With this space, we would be able to offer drama students, chamber music groups and other performance-based courses a dedicated place to meet during the school day.  In addition, our media center has become the default location for items such as Superintendent Brown Bag Lunches, Special Assemblies, Guest Speakers and Testing.  The creation of a mini auditorium space would allow for meetings of up to 200 for special events that are not conducive to the large auditorium setting.
Q:  A Health and Wellness center seems a bit excessive for a small district like ours, why is it included?
A:  The Health and Wellness Center is a new facility that will centralize our athletic programs and give much needed space for instruction at both Briarcliff and the high school.  By relocating the locker rooms to the Health and Wellness Center, we will avoid all of the issues that come with sharing this space, traffic congestion after school, school security concerns, inability to effectively share space and most importantly, we would regain 2,000 square feet which could then be dedicated for academic instruction and new programs at the middle school.  This would allow Briarcliff Middle School to be eligible for a New Jersey School to Watch.  Further, the current trainer’s room at the high school could be converted into a dance studio.   In order to be a distinguished school of the arts, high schools must have curricular programs that address all five areas of the arts, instrumental music, vocal music, performing arts, visual arts and dance.  The addition of a dance studio would enable us to be a premier program for the arts.
Q:  When was the last time the district supported a referendum, what did it include?
  • 2003:  MLHS Referendum Total $15,620,000. ($10,920,000. Borough Funded $4,700,000. State Funded)  Included Media Center, Auxiliary Gym, Band Room, Main Office, Additional Classrooms and a new roof.  No Auditorium or Kitchen renovations were included. $20,215,335 in current dollars
  • 1998: District Referendum Total $7,500,000. Expansion of Wildwood and Briarcliff School and Renovation of High School Science Labs $10,956,993 in current dollars
  • 1987:  District Referendum Total $3,400,000.  Extensive roofing, lighting, bathroom renovations, heating, ventilation and ADA compliance work $7,127,190 in current dollars
Q:  What will this referendum cost and how will it be funded?
A: Currently, this referendum proposal includes:
  • MLHS ~ $15million
  • Briarcliff ~ $4.5million
  • Wildwood ~ $5.9million
  • Health & Wellness Center ~$4million
Between 28-40% of the project will be funded by the State of New Jersey. The Steering Committee on Alumni Giving and Corporate Sponsorship is seeking private funding to offset costs and relieve the strain on residents.  The balance will be funded with a bond issue.
Q:  What is the impact on personnel and additional costs associated with expansion of programs, both immediately and beyond the referendum?
A:  To be sure, there will be a cost of ownership for these new facilities.  Each additional teaching staff member is an estimated cost of $80,000. An additional custodian is an estimated cost of  $50,000 and we estimate an additional  $50,000 for items such as utilities, supplies, materials, and furniture.  The Finance Committee and District Administration are working on cost savings measures such as the continued implementation of the Energy Savings Improvement Plan, administering our before and after care program in district and reallocation of support personnel positions to generate savings in the budget that will allow for funding these costs without a significant, additional burden on the tax payers.
Q:  What, if any, financial impact will the referendum have on the send/receive Boonton Township agreement? 
A:  Our neighbors in Boonton Township are exceptional partners that share a commitment to delivering the highest quality of instruction to our high school students.  Should a referendum result in a more robust program for all of our students, it is our hope that the Boonton Township Board of Education would recognize that and comply with any increases to the per pupil cost of attendance at Mountain Lakes High School.  
Q:  What is the timeline for the project?
  • May-October 2016 ~ Opportunities to solicit community input into the design process September 2016 ~ Community survey on the various aspects of the referendum
  • October-December 2016 ~ Finalizing the Referendum Proposal; Application for state funding 
  • January-April 2017 ~ Community Review and Discussion of Revised Referendum Proposal 
  • April 2017 ~Public vote on final proposal
If the community approves the referendum, pre-construction would begin in the summer of 2017 and the project would take approximately 2 years to complete.
Q:  I heard that our rankings are not as strong as they have been in the past, can investment in a referendum change this?
A:  Mountain Lakes High School students’ performance is consistent and stronger than it ever has been.  If you review the recent report of our testing data included below you will note that our SAT and ACT testing results are higher than ever.  We also have more students than ever taking and passing Advanced Placement exams.  Our district participation and performance in PARCC placed us at the top of schools in a similar socio-economic grouping.  Having said that, there are factors that affect school rankings over which we have less control.  Those factors include performance of reportable student minority groups and percentage of students on free and reduced lunch. Ranking organizations look closely at this data and weigh it in their rankings to measure how districts are working to lessen the achievement gap that exists in New Jersey.  Some of the areas where our district has shown a strong commitment such as maintaining small class size and encouraging a broad range of students to participate in Advanced Placement courses have been less valued in many ranking systems.  High school ranking systems also do not distinguish between schools with a selective admission policy and comprehensive, public high schools.  If you look at the final slide of our test data presentation you will notice that, despite all of these factors, we are one of the more consistent schools in the NJ Monthly Rankings over time.  We are putting this referendum before the voters to provide our students with access to the programs and facilities that will serve them well now and prepare them for a rigorous post secondary educational experience.