A proposal to build a new, $68.8 million middle school to address student enrollment in Monroe Township failed Tuesday night.
With 18 percent turnout, the referendum received 3,244 no votes versus 3,101 yes tallies.
While the results are unofficial, Superintendent Michael Kozak said Tuesday night that he was "disappointed" and "unfortunately" confident the tally would remain when the absentee ballots are calculated. According to the Monroe Township Clerk's office, there are 35,718 registered voters.
"Unfortunately, the referendum was defeated. I am extremely disappointed because of the amount of work that was put into getting it out to the community," Kozak said, after just receiving the results.
Education officials and community members, he said, "worked hard" to inform the voting base about the plan, need and impact, adding that "we were transparent throughout the entire process. We put up information on our website, put out information in a digital format, made many presentations in multiple communities," among other communication efforts.
Education officials have long maintained that enrollment will increase by 1,500 students in five years, adding more strain on capacity at the current middle school. Because of the increasing enrollment, the district will add classroom trailers in the fall at the middle school.
Tuesday night’s referendum is the latest major project the district proposed to residents since 2003. The district has built a new high school, which includes space for an expansion, and a new elementary school.
The $68.8 million project would build a new middle school on a 35-acre lot. The state earmarked $7.1 million in debt-service aid to reduce the tax impact on homeowners, had the referendum pass. The new school was slated to be built on township land at 254 Applegarth Road. The site is currently home to a golf center. The township acquired the land through the eminent domain process and plans to deed the site to the district at no cost.
Kozak said it is "hard for me to say at this point what the reasons were [for it failing]. A lot of people were concerned about the increase to the taxes." He added, however, there were many in the community who understood that since interests rates are low, building a new middle school would be less expensive this time.
As for what's next, Kozak did not have an answer. He said education officials will discuss options and try to determine what went wrong.