Haddonfield BOE Approves Bancroft Purchase Letter, Suspends 24/7 Disciplinary Policy
One member voted against the Bancroft approval without releasing appraisal details.
The Haddonfield Board of Education on Tuesday approved a letter of intent to purchase the nearly 19-acre Bancroft parcel adjacent to Haddonfield Memorial High School.
The borough Board of Commissioners unanimously approved the letter of intent last week. The letter now launches a 45-day process for the borough and the school board to appraise the property and draft an agreement of sale with Bancroft, a center for the developmentally disabled and acquired brain injuries
But the BOE vote was not unanimous.
At the end of a long public comment session, school board member Joe Ehrhardt recommended the board not move forward on its approval until both the appraiser and the public be given the information in an appraisal commissioned by the BOE several years ago.
Other board members did not share Ehrhardt’s view and approval of the letter of intent passed in a six to one vote.
At the outset, board President Steve Weinstein explained how the action that night was concerned only with the letter of intent and its own particular issues—such as approving a resolution for BOE costs to be reimbursed by bond proceeds and hiring the appraisal firm of Renwick & Associates Valuation Solutions.
Members of the public still had questions and concerns about turf versus grass athletic fields, student enrollment projections, a possible increase in property taxes (if a bond referendum passes), the potential for an affordable-housing component and even the size of the concession stand. All those issues will be addressed at future meetings, Weinstein said.
“Tonight’s action does not lock in the turf question,” he said.
A public meeting in September (date still to be determined) will focus on concerns about the project’s details. When comments from the public became heated, Weinstein said, “This board agonizes over what’s prudent. The board spends time, energy and thought every single day on how to balance the education of students with the costs to the taxpayers. There is no right answer in the sky.”
The letter of intent clarifies how the $12.2 million real estate purchase will be funded. The BOE’s action sets in motion local and state procedural machinery that could result in a $16.8 million ballot initiative to go before Haddonfield voters on January 22, 2013.
But even before that ballot goes to the voters, there are contingencies that could halt the process. If the appraisal determines that the estimated $16.8 million in bond costs is not a viable amount, there will be no measure on the ballot. If Bancroft does not comply with the terms of the letter of intent and the purchase agreement, there will be no bonds issued.
If the bond referendum passes, Bancroft then has two years to find, finance and start constructing a new facility at a new location. If, for some reason Bancroft is not able to vacate the premises within two years, it will pay the BOE $400,000 for year three and $600,000 for year four. If, even after those two additional years, Bancroft has not vacated, it will be in default of the contract and liable for debt service costs.
24/7 policy gone, for now
The board also voted to suspend its controversial 24/7 student disciplinary policy in a closed-door, executive session before the meeting. The policy, started in 2009, barred students arrested and convicted of alcohol or drug offenses from participating in school extracurricular activities, such as sports and band.
“We have suspended our policy as of tonight to avoid any complaints that our policy violates the law,” he said.
Before the board voted on the suspension of the disciplinary rules, school board member Glenn Moromarco noted, “We are suspending our policy, not repealing it.”
Weinstein said his Blackberry was busy with comments from the community as it became aware of the BOE’s action after the meeting.
“There’s a strong feeling that this policy did a lot to provide stability and encourage responsibility and leadership among students,” Weinstein said. “Right now, we’ll just take it one day at a time.”