Proposed School Bond Referendum Sees Concerns, Enthusiasm From Moorestown Community

MOORESTOWN, NJ — Much of the Moorestown community wants smaller class sizes. But some doubts loom over a proposed bond referendum that could help, according to school administrators.

More than 1,000 people responded to a survey regarding the proposed referendum that district leadership outlined in April, exceeding district expectations. Some of the most common concerns include the unknown price tag and how re-organizing the district’s grade-level distribution may impact students — particularly third-graders — according to Interim Superintendent Joe Bollendorf.

The district’s plan would modernize each school’s infrastructure, freeing up space to put third-graders in Moorestown Upper Elementary School and elevate sixth-graders to William Allen Middle School. The upgrades would also give Moorestown the chance to offer free, full-day kindergarten, Bollendorf says.

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Moorestown currently has three lower elementary schools (PreK-3) that feed into Moorestown Upper Elementary School (Grades 4-6), which puts elementary- and middle school-age children under the same roof. William Allen Middle School serves seventh and eighth grades.

One of the more common concerns about the proposals was the fear of sending third-graders to Upper Elementary School. But Bollendorf says the school would be re-imagined for an elementary atmosphere, with new playground spaces, colorful hallways and other renovations.

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“A fear is born of what UES currently is, which we all recognize is a bifurcated model of both elementary and middle school that is not the model that our third-graders will entertain,” Bollendorf said during Tuesday’s school board meeting. “Our goal is to create a welcoming, warm, vivid, bright culture of a building that third-graders are going to embrace and be a part of.”

The proposed referendum is in an early stage, and no proposed project has been set in stone. In April, district administrators projected a public vote for next March. Read more: Bond Referendum Proposed For Moorestown School Upgrades

In 2019, Moorestown held a bond referendum for school improvements worth a combined $26 million, which 60 percent of voters rejected. Bollendorf, set to remain interim superintendent until December, has emphasized community engagement this time around so history doesn’t repeat itself.

But the total cost and the local taxpayer burden remain unknown. That will depend on how much funding the state provides for projects tied to the referendum, Bollendorf says.

Normally, local taxes cover the entire cost of school repairs and other upgrades. But through a successful bond referendum, the state can fund each project up to 40 percent.

This summer, the district will finalize a referendum plan, which it will submit to the New Jersey Department of Education. And figuring out the local tax burden will depend on how much the state chooses to provide.

The district hopes to send the state a plan by the end of July, continuing communication with the community until then and thereafter, Bollendorf says.

With district debt also set to come off the books, the local taxpayer burden is “a mathematical calculation that is not able to be done because there are too many things that depend upon one another,” Bollendorf said.

Class sizes have long been a concern in Moorestown, especially in the lower grades. But one community member relayed public concerns about whether future declines in enrollment could leave the district with too much space.

But Bollendorf says he doesn’t envision that scenario, since the upgrades will put Moorestown in a better position to offer full-day kindergarten and preschool. Moorestown currently charges tuition for afternoon kindergarten attendance, making it one of only a handful of New Jersey districts without free, full-day kindergarten.

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“Even if the population took a downturn or stabilized, you would have more opportunities in the area preschool education, which you don’t have now,” Bollendorf said.

Watch Bollendorf’s presentation and the ensuing discussion below:

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