Voters in Pennsauken signed off on a district-wide facilities overhaul, while those in Collingswood snubbed a measure to renovate the local school athletic fields.
By Matt Skoufalos | March 13, 2018
By a margin of three to one, Pennsauken voters approved funding for some $36 million in public school district improvements Tuesday, clearing the way for a series of facilities upgrades that district officials describe as transformative.
By about the same measure, Collingswood voters rejected a nearly $14-million facilities referendum that would have redeveloped its high-school athletic fields and elementary school playgrounds.
Pennsauken’s ballot initiative passed by a vote of 1,896 to 663, while Collingswood’s fell, 2,158 to 810, in a pair of special elections. All totals are unofficial until certified by the Camden County clerk, and do not include provisional ballots.
At a reception Tuesday evening, Pennsauken Superintendent of Schools Ronnie Tarchichi thanked district teachers, administrators, and members of the township school board for sustaining a collaborative effort that saw the bond measure pass.
“There’s something very special about Pennsauken schools,” Tarchichi said.
The superintendent said the facilities overhaul will allow Pennsauken “to compete with every other district in the area,” and overcome a “negative perception” that he feels has hindered its enrollment.
“It’s very difficult to turn that around,” Tarchichi said.
“You have to offer what we’re putting in.
“Now we can give them everything.”
Tarchichi said he expects construction to be completed within 16 months, beginning with an overhaul of the district playing fields, followed by renovations of its magnet school and preschool.
He aims to boost enrollment at the district’s “flagship high school” by 500 students, starting with the 130 township residents who attend area charter and Catholic high schools, and progressing beyond local borders.
“Districts should be competitive,” Tarchichi said. “Education is a commodity. We should be the best. The time of going to your neighborhood school is over.”
Pennsauken Board of Education President Nick Perry thanked the electorate for passing the measure.
“We are deeply indebted to you,” Perry said. “We thank you for your trust. We thank you for your support. The children are going to thank you in the future.”
Collingswood Schools Business Administrator Beth Ann Coleman said her school board and district would have to decide what to do next.
“We still have a stadium in disrepair,” Coleman said. “We still have an unmet need for open space.”
Collingswood School Board President Fiona Henry cited prior board president Jim Hatzell’s perspective that the referendum would “see what’s out there; what the town wanted.
“We could absorb some repairs over several budget cycles,” she said.
“We wanted to wait until we got past this vote to see what’s next.”
Jason Waugh, one of two Collingswood school board members to vote against putting the measure on the ballot, said the body would reconvene amid its budget process.
“We have to regroup,” Waugh said. “We’ve got to discuss.”
Oaklyn voters did not have a say in the referendum, but the district sends its middle and high-school students to Collingswood. Oaklyn School Board President Bill Stauts said he was “disappointed” with the results.
Collingswood school board member Ray Becker issued a statement expressing his frustration with the results, and criticizing what he perceived as electioneering efforts to torpedo the vote.
“I am disappointed that the students/children of the borough will be denied the opportunity to have sufficient and high-quality spaces for athletic and recreation programs, and that our students enrolled in the 18-21 year program will not have the advantages of a state-of-the-art learning facility,” Becker wrote.
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