One big concern of every school board is the condition of district facilities. The smooth running of a school system includes regularly maintaining and repairing facilities, and, when necessary, building or renovating.

There are two reasons why it’s important to maintain your district’s physical plant. First, your district’s buildings are an investment that the taxpayers have made in their community. Boards want to protect that investment and not let schools fall into disrepair.

But there is an educational reason, too. Studies have shown that when facilities are in good shape, the staff is happier and the students achieve at a higher level. Isn’t boosting student achievement at the core of everything we do?

This issue of School Leader has a special section on school facilities, including articles on a school designed for children with disabilities, one on indoor air quality, one on energy- and money-saving strategies, and a report on 2014 construction referendums in the state.

In fact, my own district is among those that submitted referendums to voters last year. Our proposal, which passed last September, was for $15.5 million, and will fund improvements at five schools, including new roofing, construction of secure vestibules and entryways, HVAC upgrades and security cameras. Those projects are eligible for the state’s ROD – regular operating district – grants.

We are grateful to our community for approving the referendum, but we worked hard to build support for the project. That’s critical to the success of a construction proposal.

The board and the school administration actively worked to get information about the need for school repairs out to the public. We did a public presentation at one of our meetings with our architect and our bond counsel to talk about the funding and impact of the referendum on taxpayers. Representatives of the school board and/or the superintendent and the business administrator spoke at every back-to-school night, and presented at PTA meetings, athletic booster club meetings, senior citizen community centers and before any community groups that were willing to have us.

Our district Facebook and Twitter pages helped get the message out to remind people to vote, and the local media picked up on it. These are all standard strategies – rudimentary stuff – but paying attention to the basics pays off. In our case, the referendum passed by almost 1000 votes – a nice margin in our district.

We also got a little lucky when we actually went out to sell bonds. The prevailing interest rates were a little lower than we expected, so we were able to shave about $500,000 off the final tally of what we borrowed.

I urge board members to read the special section on facilities. It is an issue in every district, including my own.

We will begin work on our schools this summer when students are out of school, so as not to disrupt the educational process. Phase two will be completed in the summer of 2016, and we look forward to knowing that our facility needs are being addressed.

Donald Webster, Jr. is NJSBA president.

Skip to toolbar