Freehold Borough school construction gets state approval and aid
After years of chronically-crowded classrooms, the Freehold Borough School District can look forward to expanded facilities for its booming student population - the lion's share to be paid by the State of New Jersey.
State Education Commissioner David Hespe approved new construction that was the subject of a twice-defeated $33,000,000 bond referendum, and authorized 85 percent of the cost to be borne through state funds. Local taxpayers will be required to cover the remainder.
Most observers called it a "historic" day for the district, especially shore State Senator Jennifer Beck (R-11).
"They've had something like 700 new kids come into their tiny little school system in the last eight years," she remarked. The facilities, designed for about 1,200 students, currently house close to 1,700.
The bonding issue suffered narrow defeats in both instances. "There is a statutory provision that says, when you're voted down twice,you can appeal to the Department of Education...for a hearing by an administrative law judge," Beck explained. "The Commissioner has the option to override the referendum."
Beck noted that overriding a referendum is a step taken cautiously and seriously, with the full knowledge that it's revisiting a result reached by voters.
"In this case, the facts were so overwhelming that the children in this school were not getting a proper education," Beck said, "and secondarily, that the taxpayers of Freehold Borough are already overburdened. They already provide a million more dollars in local fair-share funding for their schools than the state says they have to provide."
Beck heaped praise on the youngsters who have abided classrooms packed with nearly 40 students each, and the teachers on whom they depend.
"Our teachers in Freehold Borough are second to none," Beck said. "They are some of the lowest-paid teachers in Monmouth County, and yet they are so dedicated to these children. They would walk over hot coals for them."
She was equally effusive in lauding Superintendent Rocco Tomaczic and the Board of Education for their persistence.
Asked if she thought those who opposed the referenda would be amenable to a five-million-dollar expanse, Beck said, "My instinct is yes. Because originally they would have had to fund 75 percent...which would have been a much higher number. This was pretty unexpected, that the State of New Jersey would determine that the state had to play a role here."
Kean University Professor Frank Argote-Freyre, Director of the Latino Coalition, who discussed the matter the night before the decision on WOBM-AM's "Townsquare Tonight," noted that while the locally-funded portion covers maintenance, the new construction meets the most pressing needs.
"This includes many, many new classrooms, I think over 20," he said, "a new gym, a library. We couldn't be more pleased."
"The Latino Coalition and the Latino Action Network have worked on this for many years," Argote-Freyre said. "The district has approximately 80 percent Latino population. It just felt like an island of discrimination when other districts around it had enormous funding resources and more-than-adequate facilities."
He also noted that Senate President Steve Sweeney took an active but hidden role in bringing the decision about.