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Editorial: Vote Yes On The Referendum
On Tuesday, March 11, Verona voters will cast their ballots in a referendum to repair Verona’s six public schools, improve their security and technology, fix a 35-year-old problem on one school field and make another work for Verona’s heavy field demand. There are two simple reasons to vote in favor of the referendum: Our substantial need and the measure’s reasonable cost.
Substantial Need: The 58-year-old heating system at Verona High School does not adequately heat the building, leaving students struggling to stay warm as they try to learn. The masonry facade at Brookdale is separating from the building. There are failing doors at all six schools, classroom phones cannot call 911, the computer network is more than a decade old. A poor choice of landfill at VHS three decades ago has left us with a site deemed hazardous by the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection. This is not a desirable image for Verona schools and we need to fix it.
Reasonable cost: The Board of Education won a $2.8 million grant from the state, which cut the cost of the referendum to taxpayers to $13.8 million, or less than half of the 2005 referendum. With the lower total cost, and lower borrowing cost, that works out to $176.75 per year to the average home in Verona, or 48 cents a day. It is a small price to pay to keep our property values high.
Much of the discussion around this referendum has centered on the sports fields, at VHS and elsewhere. We cannot legally walk away from the problems on the upper VHS field, and the $1.88 million that the Board of Education has earmarked for remediation is a sound, middle-of-the-road solution. It fixes what can be fixed without excessively burdening taxpayers and creates some benefits for the community. Since we must cap the problem landfill near the VHS parking lot, the BOE has chosen to turn that cap into an extra tennis court and more parking, neither of which will go unused.
But fixing the upper field will not, unfortunately fix our field problems. After remediation, the upper field will work for gym classes but it will no longer be large enough for any high school sport. Verona has used the original high school football field near Grove Avenue for two seasons now, showing both its strengths and its weaknesses. The referendum would spend $3,806,994–or 22.8% of the total–on creating a turfed field that can host multiple sports (baseball, softball, soccer, lacrosse and football) and activities like marching band. The Verona Education Association has estimated that 75% of VHS students would be able to use the refurbished field. They could stay after school and get help from their teachers and still make it to practice on time. The Hilltop fields proposed by the Town Council would be for youth sports and not high school athletes. The money that is available to fund their construction belongs to Verona’s municipal budget and not the BOE’s.
Does this referendum get us everything we all want? No, of course not. We all can come up with a long list of what we think a town like Verona should have in and around its schools. But voting yes gets us a step closer to that goal.
The polls are open from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Tuesday. Your vote counts.
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