Referendum Passes By Wide Margin

By on March 11, 2014

Forte-ReferendumBy a vote of 1,766 to 1,065, Verona voters resoundingly approved a referendum to make a host of much-needed repairs to Verona’s six public schools, improve their security and technology, and fix two school fields.

“This referendum was so much more important than any one individual,” says Superintendent Steven A. Forte. “It was really about the community. To see this type of turnout and positive vote was humbling.”

The margin of the victory was huge in Verona terms. In 2005, the buildings portion of the last Board of Education referendum passed by just nine votes. There was a separate fields question on that ballot, and it failed 1,909 to 1,101. A 2007 referendum to turf the upper field at VHS failed 1,428 to 955.

Turnout for today’s referendum was strong. Several groups of parent volunteers, representing different schools, sports and activities have spent weeks talking to potential voters about the referendum and reaching out to them through social media. On Tuesday, many parents gathered at Bella Gente restaurant to call friends and neighbors to urge them to get to the polls.

“Six weeks ago, some members of the Town Council told Mike Passero and myself that this referendum would never pass,” said Frank Ferrari, who actively lobbied for a Yes vote. “And here we are today, thanks to the leadership of Steve Forte and the other Verona residents who put a lot of time and effort in, and it did pass.”

While the results are only provisional, the Yes votes were ahead of the No votes in every district but one, district 7. This is a district of streets around F.N. Brown, where flyers appeared in mailboxes over the weekend urging a No vote. But the margin in that district was slim: There were 146 No votes to 131 yes votes.

What is this?

The final cost of the referendum to taxpayers was $13.8 million because the Board of Education won a $2.8 million grant from the state, largely on the strength of the repairs needed at Verona High School. The referendum will replace its heating system, which is original to the building and has struggled to keep the high school at a temperature conducive to learning this winter. The referendum will also let Verona put a security system in place at all school entrances, upgrade the schools’ 10-year-old computer platform, and fix potentially hazardous masonry and paving problems at many of the schools.

According to Forte, who will be leaving Verona after the current school year ends for a new position in Denville, the work covered by the referendum will begin almost immediately. “We will start the process of getting plans drawn up and bids prepared,” he said. “After that we award contracts. We will also send out information on the process to the public and inform everyone like we have been doing about the planning phase.”

That outreach will be particularly important to the redevelopment of the fields at VHS. As a result of the “Yes” vote, the Board of Education will be able to remediate problems caused by improper landfill on the upper field and parking lot more than three decades ago, problems that the current BOE was legally obligated to remediate. But the BOE determined that it would be too costly and difficult to fix the field enough to return it to use as a football field. Instead,  the referendum will make it possible to create  a turfed complex on the lower field that can accommodate baseball, softball, lacrosse, soccer, football and marching band.


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10 Comments

  1. Michael Nochimson

    March 12, 2014 at 1:01 pm

    Congratulations to the Board of Education, Mr. Forte and the residents of Verona whose dedication to our community encouraged a strong voter turnout yesterday. The vote reinforced that the Education of our children and the quality of our schools are a top priority to our community. Compliments to the 26.4% of our residents for exercising their right to vote. Regardless of your position on this vote it is your activism and participation that strengthens Verona.
    Michael Nochimson

  2. betty anderson

    March 12, 2014 at 2:39 pm

    I am wondering why this work wasnt done in the first place.? The sports minded people in verona think that theyre kids are great at sports but in reality once they leave they are nothing. Why dont they just say to the poor taxpayers in this town “Leave losers your not wanted here!!! they should get rid of the entire board of ed because just like theyre bullying policy they are full of bs. The state should investigate this just like the educational standards because there IS BULLYING and the education is not that great. Im glad I left!!!

  3. Virginia Citrano

    March 12, 2014 at 6:38 pm

    Betty, in 2004 the Board of Ed identified $68 million of repairs and improvements needed at the schools. Realizing that that was too much for taxpayers, it created a $34 million referendum which voters approved in 2005. Field improvements were a separate ballot question in that referendum and it failed.

    In the meantime, other problems popped up. In the fall of 2012, two holes opened on the upper field at VHS. A engineering study revealed that a potentially dangerous landfill was used when the field was expanded in the late 1970s. The field was deemed hazardous by the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, and closed.

    The bullying policy in Verona was mandated by the state Department of Education, which parenthetically is only giving Verona half of the state aid it is supposed to receive.

    The point of a high school athletics program is not to be a feeder for professional sports. It is to create well rounded students.

  4. betty anderson

    March 13, 2014 at 2:50 pm

    Well ms. citrano if the money was given at that time, then what happened to it? Obviously it did not go to the schools and why the need for new vehicles all the time when a good second hand vehicle is ok and if properly cared for it will run for a long time, what do the workers at the schools do even in the summer? The only one I have ever seen working is Lou at FN brown and the other guys driving around in the trucks. About the bullying policy if it was mandated by the state why is Mr Quatrochi saying there have been no bullying incidents reported when it has been and no one wants to look like the bad guy the only ones that suffer are those that are bullied. seems to me the board of ed are a bunch of BULLIES!!! As far as sports I agree with you it does create well rounded students I have three of my own that are very involved however the difference is that if my kids lose they still feel like winners and have tried theyre best as for verona students they make you feel like losers because of the staff making your kids feel that they didnt do theyre best. That is one of the reasons why I left Verona!!!

  5. Virginia Citrano

    March 13, 2014 at 2:59 pm

    Quite a lot happened with it, Betty. Like the gym and pre-K extension made to Laning. Also the new front entrance there, making Laning the only school with a security-compliant front entrance. At HBW, the last referendum built the science lab expansion. It upgraded the school libraries to be computer centers. And the interest earned on the bond debt–about $1 million if memory serves–was used to reduce the cost of school budgets to taxpayers in the years following the referendum.

    As I said before, the last referendum identified $68 million in work that was needed. We only did $34 million. The rest of the projects were put off. Many of those projects were at VHS, which is why the new referendum included so much work at the high school.

    In between the two referendums, some work was funded out of the BOE’s budgets, like the repairs to the failing steps at HBW that were made last summer (we had a photo on our site). Mr. Forte has promised to find a way using the regular budget to fix the floors at VHS, which are awful.

    Just like our houses, our schools will never be “done”. Verona’s facilities director has compiled the most comprehensive list of what has to be done that we have had in years. And he’s working on it.

  6. Ted

    March 13, 2014 at 5:44 pm

    I haven’t heard anything about including the maintenance and repair of school facilities in the annual budget moving forward. So the school board will use the $16 million to fancy up all the facilities and then neglect them for another decade or so and then we’re right back to where we were before.

    The annual school budget should include funds for maintaining and repairing facilities. Looks like no one learned their lesson here.

  7. Virginia Citrano

    March 13, 2014 at 9:53 pm

    Ted, you’re in luck: There’s a special Board of Ed meeting this coming Tuesday at VHS to discuss the regular budget, which will include maintenance issues. It starts at 7 p.m. in the high school library.

    You can find the budget for the 2013-2014 year here: http://www.veronaschools.org/Page/3011 . On page four of the “user friendly” budget there’s an overview of maintenance spending: $2,467,087 for the 11-12 school year, $2,518,989 for 12-13; and $2,638,193 for 13-14.

    Then you can look at the fact book found here: http://veronaschools.org/Page/97 . On page 14 and 15 there are details on some of the maintenance work that was being done through the regular budget.

    There is a public comment portion of the meeting when questions can be asked.

  8. Mike Courter

    March 16, 2014 at 7:07 am

    Virginia, great job handling these questions. I appreciate the info and will look at those websites you provided. I voted Yes for this referendum and am excited for the improvements it will bring to the town.

  9. Virginia Citrano

    March 16, 2014 at 9:10 am

    You’re welcome.

  10. betty anderson

    March 20, 2014 at 2:52 pm

    Answered only half of questions all I have heard is alot and I mean ALOT of back slapping thanks for nothing? The only people that I feel bad for are those poor people that are going to get poor because they are made to feel like nothing. If you guys want to pay those that have the money that voted for it let THEM pay for it!!!!

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