School Board Notes • January 2, 2013 • Vol. XXXVI No. 21

Slow Year for School Construction in New Jersey

When it comes to school construction in New Jersey, 2012 ended as the quietest year in recent history, according to NJSBA.

School boards in 2012 proposed the fewest school construction questions on the ballot – and voters approved the fewest, and the smallest amount, in dollars – since NJSBA began tracking school construction in 1997.

Decline in Approvals Voters last year approved 11 of the 20 school construction proposals on the ballot, for a total of $106 million in new construction.

By comparison, the greatest activity for school construction in New Jersey occurred in 2003, when voters approved 73 of the 93 bond referendums, for a total of $1.42 billion in new construction.

Multiple Factors The decline in school construction is likely due to multiple factors.

The economy continues to be difficult, and school boards' construction proposals tend to be smaller than in past years – and often for emergent issues, such as leaking roofs.

While New Jersey school districts have been eligible for state reimbursement for eligible construction since 2000 – either through grants or annual payments of debt service aid – most ballots this year contain language that says "no state support is currently available and the state has not been approving any capital projects for which state support is requested." The ballots typically add that the school board will use its best effort to obtain any state aid, should it become available.

The downturn in construction may also be due to so many districts having addressed their renovation or expansion issues through past referendums. In other districts, student enrollment has leveled off.

NJSBA has posted the results of all school bond referendums since 1998, as well as research and a chart comparing school construction over a 12-year period, on its School Construction research page.

New Jersey School Bond Referendums, 2012

Month (# passed/proposed) Amount Requested Amount Approved
Jan (1/2) 46,124,446 30,206,077
March (1/5) 24,562,005 1,000,000
April (1/1) 2,491,951 2,491,951
Sept (2/3) 30,780,000 13,880,000
Nov (2/3) 43,635,158 16,107,658
Dec (4/6) 60,815,217 42,449,967
TOTAL (11 passed/20 proposed) 208,408,777 106,135,653

Percentage of proposals approved: 55%

Percentage of spending approved:  50.9%