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Former Mayor Bill Reynolds Explains Why He Supports Bancroft Public Purchase

Reynolds shared his thoughts on the Internet chat room Haddonfield Talks.

This post from former Haddonfield mayor and prominent business leader Bill Reynolds is from the local Internet chat room Haddonfield Talks:

I'm an old guy.  I have lived here almost all of my 74 years, and I have seen "hot" issue controversies come and go.  These controversies almost always involve a proposed local change.  Clearly, the upcoming referendum and the possible change that will come if it passes fall into the "hot" category.

Here's what usually happens with "hot" change issues.  The arguments on both sides will become very passionate. There will be charges of plots and hidden agendas from those who are against the change.  In the old days, the folks who opposed change would call the people who were for the change "communists."  That would make the people who were for the change furious, and then the fur would really start to fly. I remember one time when I was a kid, a group wanted the town to put fluoride in the drinking water to fight tooth decay. Feelings ran so high that after one public meeting, there was a fist fight behind Borough Hall. Hopefully things today won't reach that point, but even if they do, ultimately, the town will calm down, and things will return to normal. "Normal" here is a town made up mostly of middle class families who prize education and who do everything they can to see that their kids get the best possible start in life.

A little history may be helpful. Haddonfield has always been "an education community." The second community building in town built by the Quakers in the mid 1700s was a school. It's still there today on Haddon Avenue. The first comprehensive public high school was built in the early 1900s at the site where the middle school is now.  It was next to the railroad station, and in addition to Haddonfield teens, students came by train from as far as Hammonton and Medford for the chance to attend high school.  In those days, everything east of here was very rural, and there was no education beyond the elementary level.

The current high school main building opened in the 1920s, and all the schools in town were expanded in the decades from the 50s through the 80s.  The reason for this is that the nurture of growing families was, and still is, Haddonfield's major function as a community.  The people who have lived here over the years have recognized this and have been prudent in making long term investments that have resulted in the outstanding quality of the public educational system we have today.

In light of the continuing family nurture function of our community, I have reached the conclusion that it is in the public interest to buy the Bancroft site.  Here are my reasons for this conclusion:

1.  Bancroft is a willing seller.  I am not a Bancroft insider.  I have not communicated with anyone at Bancroft in many years, but I am familiar with the situation having been employed there in the late 1950s and again in the 1970s.  My observation is that over the last several decades attitudes of the residents of the surrounding neighborhoods have become increasingly antagonistic toward Bancroft.  It appears to me that the people responsible for Bancroft have decided that enough is enough and that it is in their interest to move to less contentious surroundings.

2.  Having the Borough and the Board of Education acquire the site will preserve the maximum number of public options for the future.  There isn't any more land in Haddonfield, and with Bancroft currently being a willing seller, the town has a one-time opportunity.  If we don't get this parcel into public hands now, some other use will emerge, and the property will be lost to future public use.

3.  The Borough does not have enough space to handle the increased needs brought about by the expansion of Title IX. Title IX mandates as a basic civil right that female athletes have equal facilities with male athletes.  Our present fields are doing double and triple duty and have become seriously inadequate as women's sports have expanded.  (I talked about this in more detail in a posting on HT a couple of weeks ago.)

4.  The lack of an adequate campus increases the likelihood that HMHS could be phased out as a comprehensive high school as part of school district consolidation. Nobody wants to talk about it, but the State of New Jersey is on the verge of bankruptcy.  Knowledgeable people think that consolidation of the smaller municipalities and school districts is inevitable. 

In the view of prudent people, this prospect is no longer a question of if, but when. When the State can no longer pay its bills, the bankers will hold a gun to the heads of the legislators, and, since bankruptcy is not a viable option, the legislators' only recourse will be massive restructuring of State operations.  One of the State's major cost centers is public schools. Consolidation is the clearest way to eliminate costly duplication of services and administrative overhead.  When it happens, consolidation will probably follow a model like what Pennsylvania did in the 1950s when it abolished all existing school districts and redrew district lines so that no district would have less than 5,000 students and most would have substantially more. 

While nobody can say at this point exactly what will happen here in New Jersey,  an adequate campus would do much to assure that we would keep a full high school operating here in town.

4.  Property values in Haddonfield stay high in large part because of our strong public schools.  All you have to do is to look at Merchantville to see what happens when a town loses its high school.  Through the 1960s while it had a comprehensive school district, Merchantville's property values were about the same or even a little higher than Haddonfield's. Once their high school was consolidated and the kids went to Pennsauken, the property values dropped significantly.  Today, the same house in Merchantville is valued at about 2/3 of what it is in Haddonfield.  Merchantville was simply no longer as desirable a place to raise kids, and property values dropped.  The same thing could happen in Haddonfield if we were to lose HMHS.

5.  Haddonfield has always been about raising kids.  Most of the houses here are designed for families with children. People consciously choose to move to Haddonfield and to pay our higher taxes because our public schools continue to be among the best in the nation.  The schools also continue to be an incredible bargain.

The most recent national average figures for annual private non-sectarian school tuition rates are$15,945 for elementary and $27,302 for secondary (http://www.capenet.org/facts.html).  This means that the cost of educating one child K-12 in private school today would be:  $252,713, or to put it another way, if you have two kids in school, it is going to cost you anywhere from $35,000 to $50,000 a year to get the kind of quality you get for just your taxes here in Haddonfield. 

If we invest in acquiring the Bancroft site, we will do much to assure that Haddonfield will continue to be a place that attracts people who have a high regard for education and who see our educational system as real value.  This means that the demand for housing and the value of our housing stock will stay high.

6.  It's a myth that the town is discriminating against our seniors.  As I said, I'm an old guy, and a lot of my friends are old too. I have lived here all my life. I am not broken up about the thought of having to move out of the five (maybe six) bedroom house that my wife and I share.  Our kids are long gone, and the place is too damn big for just the two of us.  It costs us way too much to stay here, but inertia and grandkids in the area keep us rooted in the old place. We know that one day we will have to move.  There are plenty of apartments and condos in town and in the area, and moving outside the Borough boundaries when you're our age does not mean that you are one bit less a part of the community.  The community, after all, is not the government – it's people. As a friend of mine says, "I now sleep in Cherry Hill, but I still live in Haddonfield." Most of the folks I know who have moved feel the same way.  They still participate in whatever aspects of Haddonfield life they choose.  So it seems to me that the senior citizen argument is not nearly the issue some people make it out to be.

7.  Closing Thoughts: The acquisition of the Bancroft property will do much to give Haddonfield the ability to maintain its position as a leading education community.  The acquisition does involve making some changes and spending some money.  It takes courage to confront change.  Haddonfielders have been courageous in the past.  The quality of life we enjoy today is not an accident.  It is the result of many generations of Haddonfielders who have had the courage to invest and reinvest in the quality of life in our community.

While I probably won't be around to see the long term outcomes of the upcoming decision,  I profoundly hope that as a community we will have the courage to maintain our tradition of being forward looking.  One way to do that is to vote YES on the upcoming referendum.

 

Jack S January 10, 2013 at 06:53 PM
While I respect Mr. Reynolds for his past service as mayor, this notion that if we don't expand our high school, we will be forced to consolidate with other districts, is without merit. Mr. Reynolds' thesis assume that the state legislature would force consolidation in the event the State defaults. Let me say that if the State defaults, we'll have a lot bigger fish to fry than Bancroft, and we will then wish that we have saved the $12.5 million to put into things other than Bancroft which are are actually needed instead of nice to have. In terms of a 'default', many of our previous and current elected officials need to have a lot better grasp of the defaults occurring at home. A borough commissioner shared with me earlier this week that the tax delinquencies in town now total 8 to 9 pages. While my wife and I are relatively well-off, we're ignoring the realities of this economy when we raise taxes for nice but unessential purchases. We risk forcing even those people out of town who can afford to live here but no longer want to live here because the costs vastly outweigh the benefits to them.
Haddonfield Mom January 10, 2013 at 11:44 PM
Bill Reynolds is absolutely correct when he states that we may be faced with the State consolidating school districts in the near future. It is already being discussed - we have more school districts in NJ than Connecticut and Pennsylvania combined. Purchasing Bancroft will give us options, and control over a valuable piece of property. I am absolutely voting yes.
Jack S January 11, 2013 at 01:19 AM
But consolidation is not going to be considered in NJ. Governor Christie said most recently that the concept of forced public school consolidation would result in endless litigation, and that he would not consider it. And that's coming from a governor who has strongly supported consolidation in other contexts (e.g., Rutgers-Rowan). I also don't foresee the politicians on the other side of the aisle jumping up and down for school consolidation, since it's not something most teachers (unions) would support. This sort of argument is intended to scare voters into believing that the sky is falling.
Joe Taxpayer January 11, 2013 at 03:39 AM
Jack I don't believe school consolidation is coming either but claiming that it would result in "endless litigation" is also a scare tactic. Acquiring Bancroft does give us options. You may not like some of them but you cannot argue acquiring more land in a land locked town doesn't provide options.
David Siedell January 11, 2013 at 05:13 AM
I point to this piece of legislation that was strongly supported by the Corzine administration and is still in committee under Christie I'll post section H. I DO believe consolidation is inevitable : http://law.onecle.com/new-jersey/18a-education/7-8.html Section H: h. No later than three years following the effective date of sections 42 to 58 of P.L.2007, c.63 (C.18A:7-11 et al.), recommend to the commissioner a school district consolidation plan to eliminate all districts, other than county-based districts and other than preschool or kindergarten through grade 12 districts in the county, through the establishment or enlargement of regional school districts. After the approval of the plan by the commissioner, the executive county superintendent shall require each board of education covered by a proposal in the plan to conduct a special school election, at a time to be determined by the executive county superintendent, and submit thereat the question whether or not the executive county superintendent's proposal for the regionalization of the school district shall be adopted. The question shall be deemed adopted if it receives a vote in accordance with the provisions of N.J.S.18A:13-5. If the question is adopted by the voters, then the regional district shall be established or enlarged in accordance with chapter 13 of Title 18A of the New Jersey Statutes;
Jeff Tucker January 11, 2013 at 12:03 PM
Bill, wonderful job outlining various perspectives on the purchase. Thanks for taking the time.
Mike McCready January 11, 2013 at 12:08 PM
Bancroft is a "willing seller"? Um yeah, no kidding! My house is worth $400,000. If someone offers me $800,000 for it, you could define me as a "willing seller" too!
Bill Tourtellotte January 11, 2013 at 12:36 PM
This is the best and most informed piece I have seen yet on this topic. This is what it is all about. Looking at our history of success and how we got here, and why we must not lose sight of that vision to protect our exceptional position in the region for generations to come. Thank you to our friend and former Mayor, Bill Reynolds.
Herb Hess January 11, 2013 at 05:31 PM
In current dollars, at a rate of spending about $32,000,000 per year to educate our young people in Haddonfield, we will INVEST $1 Billion dollars into education in the next 30 years (not counting inflation). I agree that today the $4 million difference between the appraised value and the sale price is a big number. I'm also willing to see that over 30 years, a tenth of the age of this community, it is 0.4% of our investment spending. Haddonfield seems to have two industries that do well. Law is one and Education is the other. We have a resource which has not been discussed but should be part of the bigger vision for Haddonfield. That is, how do we encourage businesses, industries, and households without schoolchildren to elect to move to and/or remain in Haddonfield? There is a tremendous opportunity for redevelopment downtown which under our new zoning would preserve the character of the town yet allow for substantially higher tax revenues. We will already realize additional revenues from the Brandywine redevelopment. Greater leadership would allow many of us to transcend our fear of ever increasing debt and higher taxes by allowing us to have a vision of how intelligent development could be used to generate revenue for Haddonfield as well. Having said that, it makes more sense to me to foster development near downtown than to put it on the Bancroft property. Let's buy it or leave Bancroft there in peace. I will vote for buying it.
oldhaddie January 11, 2013 at 07:25 PM
Buy
J January 11, 2013 at 09:35 PM
This whole article is propaganda about how great the Haddonfield school system is, and it is top in NJ. However, I don't believe that I actually saw anything that specifically states that once this property is purchased by Haddonfield; it has plans for constructing a new school there or a library. All I heard about was turf field and low-income housing. I'm sorry but athletic field and housing does not equate to educational facilities. Apparently, tatem school has very little air conditioning, a leaky roof in the gym, and the list goes on. I’m sure the other schools in the town could add a laundry list of things that need replacing or repair. Lastly, at one point we were about to cut teaching positions and lose foreign language in the schools. Were those issues ever resolved? Those seem slightly more important and a direct link to education than fields and housing developments. Also, I would like to know what other local towns have turf fields? Will kids from other schools get injured on out field because they are different than their home fields? Is it a liability? Anyone know where we are on the library? Is it still getting flooded down in our children’s room? Cause you know, as the former mayor has so profoundly pointed out, Haddonfield is a town built for families and children !
Herb Hess January 12, 2013 at 01:52 AM
To your question, last year (2012) the Commissioners decided publicly (and it was covered in the local press) that the Library would be renovated for ADA access and generally improved at an investment of about $1.8 million. This is the least expensive option available.
Jack S January 12, 2013 at 02:00 AM
Dave, the existence of a piece of legislation is no evidence that something is likely to happen. I worked on several hundred pieces of legislation during my career, and few ever saw passage. And I was one of the more successful people in terms of getting legislation enacted for my corporation.
Kathleen Dallara Pennell January 18, 2013 at 04:27 PM
Mr Reynolds is a progressive thinker I admire that in a senior citizen.. If you study the states public education system You will find that we have more districts than other states. For other towns focused on budgets it may make sense to consolidated at the state's request. However,Haddonfield schools are rated the highest in South Jersey!!! And to preserve that the town needs to invested in their schools looking to the future. Property values are based almost solely of the quality public education offered in Haddonfield as Mr Reynolds pointed out. As a parent advocate for Education in NJ. I see that South Jersey is troubled by schools with low standards set by property tax funding system. I pray the vote upholds the high standards on behalf of children and their education focused families.

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