Frequently Asked Questions About the Referendum
Why is this the right time for a referendum?
Toms River Regional Schools' Board of Education had a full facilities condition assessment and based on that in-depth inspection, our 23 buildings need prompt attention. Some of the concerns were so urgent that the board had to start repairs immediately. Other issues were deemed so pressing that the Board focused its efforts on making a plan to restore the buildings before further damage was done and before some areas were beyond use.
Why can’t we pay for these repairs within the existing school budget?
The existing school budget for buildings and grounds contains only limited funds for routine maintenance and repairs, and cannot support the costs of significant capital needs that have been identified in our recent Facilities Condition Assessment.
Is the referendum needed because our buildings were not maintained all along?
Toms River Regional Schools has been maintaining its facilities to the best of its abilities within the available budget. The State of New Jersey requires a minimum line item budget be set aside for Building Repair and Maintenance for each of its buildings every year. The minimum set aside is 2% of a building's square foot replacement costs. The state has held the figure of $143.00 per square foot since 2007. The district consistently spends more than the minimum amount per school per State regulations. However, many industry standards state that upwards to 10% of a budget should be set aside of repair and maintenance.
Three facts apply in our district: 1) Our twenty-three buildings are aging, 2) construction materials and systems generally have a useful life which has been surpassed in most instances and 3) district has not gone out for a referendum in over 10 years and the last successful referendum was in 2005. During the 2005 referendum, buildings were 13 years younger than they are today.
What are “soft costs” in the referendum budget?
Construction projects are defined with “Hard Costs” and “Soft Costs.” Soft costs are capital expenditures that are necessary to complete a project that are not considered direct construction costs. Soft costs include everything from architectural and engineering fees, bonding and legal fees, pre- and post-construction expenses, permits and taxes, insurances, and project contingencies. As they relate to many up front conceptual elements of a project, costs cannot be ascertained. In addition, as "hard" construction costs are at best an educated guess, project contingencies need to be established which hopefully would cover any unforeseen additional project costs. The only way to accurately cover these are through percentages of construction costs. Depending on the project size and scope, soft costs can range from 18% to 30% of a construction project.
What is Debt Service Aid, and how is it calculated?
The Educational Facilities Construction and Financing Act (N.J.S.A.
18A:7G-1 et seq.), enacted on July 18, 2000, provides State financial
assistance through debt service aid for eligible school capital projects.
The Board is eligible to receive debt service aid at a minimum amount of
40%. Debt service
aid is only available if the voters of the School District authorize such
debt. It should be noted that Debt Service Aid is subject to State
appropriation and it is possible (if not likely) that the amount of Debt
Service Aid will be subject to pro-ration and be provided at a level below
40%. Any tax impact projections will be conservative in considering
What happens if the Bond Referendum is not approved?
The old adage “ you can pay now, or pay more later,” applies here. The reason for this is two-fold:
1) The buildings will need repairs to an even greater extent as the deterioration continues into the future, likely at an accelerated rate, and
2) the cost of the work will go up each year due to inflation.
Construction costs per square foot when many of these building were built may have been $45-50 dollars per square foot. Construction costs today can easily top $300.00 per square foot. With these important considerations, and the desire to improve and maintain the comfort and safety of our schools moving forward, we believe now is the best time for the district to go to referendum.
February 6, 2018
Q: Are all the projects set in stone at this point?
A: No. The independent engineering firms hired to do the Facilities Condition Assessment (FCA) and cost analysis identified priority issues based on health, safety, and the expected service life of systems, in consultation with district Building & Grounds personnel. Estimates were established using industry standard costs. These are the basis for our referendum proposal, but the purpose of the community meetings is to get feedback and identify areas important to our stakeholders. The projects only become final when they are submitted to the state, which we anticipate to happen in April 2018, and then meet their final approval.
Q: Are all facilities in the district, including “the Bubble,” included in the ESIP and referendum?
A: Yes. While the priority is clearly to work on areas were students learn, the Facility Condition Assessment completed by district consultant identified needs at the Bubble (JBAC), RWJBarnabas Health Arena at Toms River High School North, Transportation Complex, Central Registration, 1144 Hooper Building, and the Maintenance Yard. It should be noted that for JBAC and the Arena, the majority of utilization is school/student use.
Q: Is paving the JBAC lot in the plan?
A: Yes. Improving the lot is also part of the larger goal of increasing the use of and revenue from our unique rentable facilities.
Q: Will important issues in our buildings have to wait for referendum work to be done?
A: We will continue to maintain and repair what can be done up to and during referendum work, particularly when it comes to emergent safety and compliance issues.
Q: I get that ESIP lets you do projects with the savings over time from the energy-conservation work done, but where does the money come from up front? And how is that money paid back?
A: The ESIP projects are funded by proceeds received from the issuance of ESIP bonds. The bonds will then be paid back over 20 years through the district’s general fund budget, by reallocating the energy costs saved in the utility budget due to installing energy savings equipment. What would have been spent paying energy bills, will now be used to pay off the bonds all the while we have new equipment , controls to run the equipment and better lighting in the schools.
Q: How will companies needed to do the ESIP and referendum work be hired?
A: The work will be completed as with all other projects: they will be publicly bid.
Q: Is it likely that doing the work in the ESIP and referendum will eventually lower maintenance costs?
A: Yes. Though our facilities aren’t getting any younger and some new problems will no doubt arise over time (we have tried to account for these as much as possible in the plan), improving infrastructure and replacing outdated equipment will certainly make our systems work more efficiently and require less maintenance. Ex. Installing LED lights will save labor and parts, as replacing current incandescent and fluorescent bulbs and ballasts is a costly, constant, and time consuming task.
Q: To what extent has operating “under adequacy” exacerbated the poor condition of our facilities?
A: “Adequacy” is a calculation the New Jersey State Department of Education uses, factoring in the number of pupils and their needs, to determine how much districts should spend per pupil to provide a thorough and efficient education. Operating tens of millions of dollars less than that calculation for decades has certainly meant there has not been enough money to address a host of issues in our schools, and over time those problems have compounded. (Despite that, the district has managed to improve in many areas over the past several years.)
Q: Is it possible to give us a rough idea of the potential tax impact of the referendum as it looks now?
A: Just by way of example, If we had a $100 million referendum, and the State funded 30%, we would have to cover 70%, or $70 million, of the cost locally. If 20 year bonds were issued at an assumed interest rate of 3.75%, and if we use the 2017 ratable bases and DOE allocations for this example, it would equate to a debt service fund tax impact of less than $8/month for the average 2017 Toms River assessment of $267k, under $5/month for the average 2017 South Toms River assessment of $165K, under $6/month for the average 2017 Beachwood assessment of $203k, and under $8/month for the average 2017 Pine Beach assessment of $267k. Again, THIS IS JUST AN EXAMPLE AND THESE ARE NOT THE ACTUAL FINAL NUMBERS.
Q: Whom can I contact if I have questions, comments, or suggestions?
A: A dedicated email has been set up for the community to reach the superintendent and his team: email@example.com
February 8, 2018
Q: Would it just be cheaper to knock down some of these buildings and build new ones?
A: The cost to build a high school could easily reach $100 million dollars, and perhaps two thirds of that for an elementary. In general, the structures of our buildings are still sound, and repairing and upgrading them is the most cost efficient solution.
Q: Are there any plans to install elevators in our two-story schools that don’t have them?
A: All options are being considered for buildings with limited access, such as those with two stories and no elevators.
Q: How was the date of October 2 chosen for the tentative referendum vote?
A: The best time to begin projects would be in the summer, so working backwards from June 2019, and considering the time it will take for NJDOE approval and the bidding process, October was the earliest state approved date to make that happen. This date may ultimately be moved later, since, as we are finding from discussions at our public meetings, the repair and renovations plan is a work in progress.
Q: Will the work being done disrupt learning?
A:The goal is for the majority of the work to be done off hours. During school hours and days, work spaces will be sectioned-off and secured to minimize disruptive noise and activity that could impact the educational spaces being utilized. Additionally, summer time when schools are not in session will be an important time to accelerate work with few distractions.
Q: What role will teachers have in work done to renovate learning spaces, like labs?
A: Teachers will also be leaders in this initiative. We have engaged staff in applicable areas and will work with architects, engineers, consultants, and resources from other districts to make the best future ready choices based on the input of all our stakeholders.
Q: Is any of the referendum funding and work targeting a particular program, like the high school career academies?
A: The FCA was done independent of programs and looked objectively only at the state of our facilities. The work should be of benefit to the overall population and none were selected to further a specific course or program.
Q: Is air conditioning a possibility?
A: Community feedback shows this is a popular big ticket item among parents, students, teachers and administrators and is now on the drawing board. Some air conditioning is already required in some spaces due to the health conditions of students (particularly asthmatics), but installing individual units in individual rooms is not the most cost effective approach. Given the cost to have fully air conditioned buildings, a thorough cost/benefit evaluation for all locations has been undertaken. These costs would be in addition to the original $160 million estimate of priority projects.
Q: What is meant in the proposed plan by “environmental repairs”?
A: Repairs requiring environmental remediation, like asbestos tile and insulation.
Q: What if the costs for the work come in as less than the estimate?
A: It is hoped that this will be the case for some jobs that allow us to take advantage of economies of scale-- a case where the size of our district has its advantages. For example, every location requires paving, and contracting for so much work may cost less than the estimates for each individual job. If that is the case, projects next in the priority order will be considered.
February 27 2018
Q: If ROD or other grants became available during the life of the referendum bonds, could they be used towards the projects to reduce the tax impact?
A: With respect to State funding, the BOE must apply for what is available from the Department of Education (’DOE’) at the time of the project submission and approval process. If ROD grants are not available prior to the final approval by the DOE, the district would be approved for the applicable percentage of debt service aid over the life of the debt to be paid to fund the projects.
Q: What does it mean that all contractors will be bound by a “PLA”?
A: A PLA is a Public Labor Agreement, and it sets forth requirements to ensure that contractors provide properly trained workers. An important part of this agreement is that a minimum of 88% of the work is planned to be done by local workers.
Q: Can/should any of our capital reserve be used toward funding these projects?
A: Capital reserve is generally for emergent and often unplanned projects (ex. a boiler that fails). Over the past several years, substantial amounts have been drawn from the capital reserve to address budget shortfalls. It should be noted that there are limits established by the state how much you can keep in capital reserve and the district is significantly below that limit already.
Q: Is a solar farm part of the ESIP?
A: No. That project is being discussed independently of the referendum and ESIP as another possible revenue source for the district
Q: Are our existing solar panels nearing the end of their useful life?
A: Different components make up a roof mounted solar generation system, which is what we currently have at 20 of our facilities. Of those 20 locations, the district owns the solar panels at 7 schools while the panels at the other 13 locations are not owned by the district and are covered under a Power Purchase Agreement. The most obvious component are the panels themselves. Other elements are inverters,disconnects, wiring etc. Most elements within the system have 15 to 20 year life span. For the solar arrays we own at 7 locations, we are developing replacement plans for when these systems begin exceeding their useful life. Within the referendum, we are planning on replacing the inverters at Hooper Avenue Elementary and H S North.
March 13, 2018
Q: What are some of the safety improvements being considered in the referendum?
A: Based on input from local law enforcement and state and national institutions like the Department of Homeland Security, we make improvements and upgrades to school safety and security systems and practices every year. The referendum gives us an additional opportunity to standardize and unify many of our facilities-based systems, like keyless entries, networked cameras, and creating more secure entryway vestibules.
Q: Why can’t our current facilities staff make most of these repairs?
A: At this point, and as the FCA revealed, the scope and magnitude of the necessary repairs and renovations go way beyond the work that could ever be practically performed by our in-house maintenance staff. Our facilities are aging.The average age of our high school buildings is 52.33 year, elementary buildings are 49.66 years. Our ‘young’ intermediate schools average 38.33 years, with the newest building, Intermediate South now in its 13th year. The referendum covers large projects that are not intended for a maintenance staff to complete.
Q: Can you explain the public bid process? Do schools always have to pick the lowest bidder?
A: If the referendum is successful, our district consultant and their team will prepare the construction documents for public bidding. That in and of itself is a very involved process. Although by public contracts law contracts are awarded to the lowest responsible and responsive bidder, the project bid documents are based on the criteria that fits each job, and the district will ensure the such criteria helps ensure quality contractors with significant, relevant experience.
Q: How was the priority list determined?
A: The engineering firm used objective industry standards for assessing facilities conditions and the costs to repair or replace various elements. The list was then reviewed by district staff to reflect identified projects against district goals, anticipated use of each of facility, and known individual building needs. Priority projects that can be done in-house (ex. tree cutting) were removed from the list. Finally, feedback from stakeholders is being solicited to identify community priorities and preferences.
Q: How did the engineering firm estimate the amount of $160 million?
A: The extent of the projects and work is accessed and determined utilizing square foot costs, current bid numbers being received with other projects and an estimate on where construction costs will be 2 years out utilizing inflation calculators. Soft costs are also included within the calculations. Those include costs for insurance, bonding fees and the cost for professional services.
March 6, 2018
Q: How can senior citizens be better informed about the referendum?
A: Many seniors have grandchildren in our schools, and have expressed to us that they understand the need to graduate highly skilled American citizens into our world, and recognize the value good schools bring to communities (particularly property values). We are reaching out to all stakeholders in our towns to get the message of this initiative and educate them as to the property value impact, educational impact and tax impact.
Q: Repaving our lots is pretty important. Are reconfigurations (parking lines, travel lanes) also being considered?
A: Yes. After repaving (or resealing if the lot is in great condition and doesn’t require full repaving) and before restriping, consultants will look at the ideal placement of spaces and creating the best traffic flow.
Q: What if there are cost overruns?
A: Once the projects are approved by the Department of Education and are voted on by the voters, the overall referendum cost cannot be exceeded. That is one of the reasons that the costs are calculated on the conservative side with significant contingencies in case costs are higher or there are overruns.
Q: What do you see as your biggest challenge in this process?
A: Getting the word out there and ensuring that all stakeholders are fully informed as to what is being proposed and what it will cost each taxpayer. As the Superintendent has stated at each of the forums, there is nothing extravagant being proposed , no hidden special projects, only necessary work due to aging facilities, or areas of focus such as security upgrades.