POLITICS & GOVERNMENT

NJ voters will decide fate of $500 million for school projects

BY Leah Mishkin, Correspondent |

Expanding vocational schools to meet demand is one of several educational priorities addressed in the “Securing Our Children’s Future” bond act.

“By our estimation, in manufacturing alone there are over 30,000 open jobs right now,” said John Kennedy, CEO of the New Jersey Manufacturing Extension Program.

“Four students apply for every one seat we have,” said Scott Moffitt, superintendent for the Morris County Vocational School District.

Murphy conditionally vetoed prior legislation for $1 billion, citing concerns about adding to the state’s $46 billion in debt, estimating the total debt payments would range between $1.7 billion and $2.2 billion over 30 years, depending on interest and other factors.

The current bond up for vote is half that — $350 million for vocational school expansion and school security; $100 million for school water infrastructure and $50 million to county colleges for career and technical training.

While the Murphy administration says the $500 million is “sustainable, effective and in line with the state’s long term fiscal health,” the cost and how the money will be divided up is a concern for some.

Sen. Michael Doherty says taxpayers need to remember they will have to pay the $500 million back.

“If these are projects school districts want to complete, you should do this locally where you have to look your neighbors in the eye as you’re asking them to pay more taxes to fund these projects. But it’s been my experience these one size fits all from Trenton approach never works out. Many promises are made, but the money always seems to disappear without the projects being done,” said Doherty.

The measure doesn’t explain how school security and vocational school funding will be divided out of that $350 million.

Co-sponsor Sen. Steve Oroho says that will all be decided by the Department of Education.

“Quite frankly, obviously it has to be used for school security, or vocational education or water safety. It’s got to be in those buckets. So as far as projects, that’s going to be pretty far down the line. It could be a year, two years or three years,” Oroho said. Adding, “The issue of school security is we know we need to make our schools safer today.”

Oroho says the legislation came in response to the Parkland school shooting in which 17 people were killed.

As for money for water infrastructure, schools could use that to address lead, which has been found in the water in several schools in New Jersey.

The last time a public question was put to voters on educational spending was 2012, when voters approved $750 million in matching grants for capital upgrades to state colleges.

The constitution requires that new debts are approved by voters.

“We think over time this investment is going to pay for itself with a stronger economy and more people working in better jobs, earning higher salaries, paying more taxes,” said Judy Savage, executive director of the New Jersey Council of County Vocational Technical Schools.

Whether you agree is up to you to decide when you go to the polls.