FREEHOLD, N.J. – Voters in New Jersey’s Freehold Borough twice rejected referendums to pay for $33 million in construction and other updates to accommodate the area’s growing student population.
Now state bureaucrats are over-riding their decisions.
In both September and December, Freehold residents voted down the measure aimed at expanding the “severely overcrowded” Park Avenue Elementary, Middle School, and Learning Center with 22 new classrooms, RT.com reports.
The proposal also would have funded a new gym and library at Park Avenue Elementary, as well as a cafeteria at the learning center.
NJ TV Online reports:
Census data shows that more than a third of the borough’s 12,000 residents were born in a foreign country. A quarter of all residents are under 18. More than 70 percent of students are Hispanic and around three-quarters qualify for free or reduced price lunch, a fact not lost on those who say they don’t want to foot the bill for undocumented residents.
But some parents and local education officials argued that the election results did not properly reflect the community because many folks in the community cannot legally vote, so the state should over-rule those who can. They submitted a request to the New Jersey education department to force the issue on local taxpayers, and on Thursday, State Education Commissioner David Hespe complied, NJ.com reports.
Hespe said his decision was based largely on “the state’s responsibility to ensure that children receive a thorough and efficient education as guaranteed under the State constitution,” according to NJ 101.5.
The proposal initially would have increased taxes on the average homeowner in the district by $278 a year, but state officials promised to cover 85 percent of the cost, and to impose the remaining 15 percent on local taxpayers.
Local resident Jeanne Flegler told the news site that she has lived in the district for more than a half century, and that the added taxes is “still a lot of money.”
“If the expansion sticks to the $32 million budget from two years ago, that equates to a $4.8 million burden on the taxpayer,” she told NJ.com. “This does not include increased construction costs, new teachers, aides and additional staff required to man all these new classrooms.
“So, this is not a win-win for the taxpayers,” Flegler said. “I’m happy for the children, but not for my pocketbook.”
Flegler isn’t the only resident to speak out against the state’s decision.
“I don’t think we have to vote then, if he’s going to make the decision down in Trenton,” Ronald DeMarco said of Hespe’s decision, according to NJ TV.
New Jersey state Sen. Jennifer Beck, nonetheless, described the state override as “probably one of my proudest moments in the Legislature.”
“This is so critical to this community,” she told NJ.com, “it’s a historic day for Freehold Borough.”
Freehold schools superintendent Rocco Tomazic, of course, also applauded the move.
“We thank the commissioner for his favorable final ruling which will allow us to move forward and address our overcrowding,” Tomazic said in a prepared statement. “The needs of resident students of Freehold Borough have been placed at the forefront.”
The decision to cast aside the will of voters is at least the third time since 2003 that state bureaucrats have overruled a voter referendum for school construction, NJ.com reports.