What is a school bond referendum? 

A school bond referendum is simply a vote in which the community decides whether to authorize a public school district to sell bonds to borrow money. Funds from a bond referendum can be used to finance infrastructure and large-scale maintenance projects. This allows the district to spread payments over time, like how a homeowner uses a home equity loan to pay for improvements. 

Importantly, these kinds of projects qualify for a special kind of state aid that is only available to districts with voter-approved bonds. In West Morris Regional High School District’s case, the state would cover approximately 30 percent of the project costs. 

How is bond borrowing a key part of the district’s fiscal strategy? 

As part of West Morris Regional High School District’s commitment to fiscal responsibility, we have invested over the years in improvements and maintenance projects as needed through the annual budget. We have: 

However, like a well-maintained home, our schools require ongoing work that is more extensive than what our annual budget can cover. The district conducted a long-range facility plan and worked closely with its professional advisors to create a plan that would maximize state funding to cover 30percent of the project costs, while still decreasing the amount taxpayers pay for school debt. 

If approved by voters, the referendum would fund a variety of student-centered improvements, including completing air conditioning for classrooms and most common areas, classroom renovations, cafeteria, kitchen and fieldhouse updates, roofing, and paving.  

Why is bond funding, rather than the annual operating budget, a better option for paying for these projects? 

The district’s operating budget does the important job of funding day-to-day expenses such as salaries, benefits, maintenance, and supplies. Bond funding, however, brings an advantage that the operating budget does not have. That advantage is state aid to cover as much as one third of the costs of important projects. Without that, West Morris Regional taxpayers would have to cover 100percent of the costs. A bond referendum is one way the Board of Education looks for funding outside the local tax base.  

The West Morris Regional Board of Education thoroughly analyzed funding options and determined that critical maintenance (e.g., roofing and paving repairs) and large-scale improvements (e.g., air-conditioning classrooms and upgrading cafeteria kitchens) would not fit into the regular annual budget. Additionally, bond-funded projects qualify for state aid that is collected from taxpayers across all of New Jersey, but is earmarked only for districts that receive voter approval.  

How did the district decide that now is a good time for a bond referendum?  

The district will soon finish paying debt from a 2004 bond referendum. By timing this referendum with the debt payoff, homeowners in the five sending communities would receive a nearly 35% reduction in the debt service cost that is part of their tax bills, while still funding improvements that will maintain the quality of the schools now and for the future. 

A bond referendum fits into a financially responsible strategy. The district has identified a list of important maintenance and improvement projects that are eligible for state aid totaling 30% of approved project costs, which otherwise would have had to be fully funded by the district taxpayers. 

What other funding sources has the district pursued?  

The West Morris Regional High School District has a record of fiscal responsibility and has carefully maintained its infrastructure through a comprehensive Long Range Facility planning process.  

In addition to funding projects through the annual budget, the district has pursued other opportunities to offset costs. We refinanced its long-term debt several years ago, saving hundreds of thousands in interest payments. We also applied to participate in the state’s Energy Savings Improvement Program (ESIP), which helped fund the installation of energy efficient lighting in both schools, replacement of aging boilers, and HVAC control system upgrades. ESIP allows districts to pay for such improvements over time using the energy savings realized by the various projects. The district has also received grants to fund special equipment purchases and student programs.  


What projects will benefit West Morris Central? 

West Morris Central projects included in the referendum: 

What projects will benefit West Morris Mendham? 

West Morris Mendham projects included in the referendum: 

How will HVAC upgrades benefit students and staff? 

Most of the common areas in the schools, including the cafeterias, libraries, main gymnasiums, and auditoriums, already have air conditioning. The referendum would provide air conditioning to classroom spaces that are currently without it and/or have inefficient window units. 

Compared to years ago, more students, as well as staff and community members, are acclimated to air-conditioned spaces. Additionally, modern security concerns prevent propping open doors.   High heat makes it more difficult to mentally focus and we all function better when we feel comfortable. Beyond that, people with asthma, allergies, or other conditions can be especially uncomfortable in rooms without climate control.  

Adding air conditioning to our schools would maximize our ability to use spaces, for educational purposes and community activities at the start and end of the school year. All those reasons make it essential to consider climate control a year-round need. 

What areas will not be air conditioned after the referendum?

The referendum would bring air conditioning to classrooms and common areas that are currently without it. Due to funding constraints, the hallways and fieldhouses at both schools would not get air conditioning nor would an auxiliary gym at WMC. The district would use separate funding to add air conditioning to the field houses in the future. 

Why do the roofs at both schools need to be replaced? 

Approximately 30 percent of the roof at West Morris Central has outlived the time that it was expected to last. Likewise, a sizable portion of the roof at West Morris Mendham is in the same position, leading to leaks and other issues.

Rather than continuing to make costly quick-fix repairs, the referendum proposal would fund replacement of some areas and long-term repairs to other areas of the roofs at both schools. 

Why does the culinary arts room at WMM need to be updated? 

Culinary arts studies empower students to make nourishing food choices through hands-on learning. Students learn about nutrition, planning meals, and how to make smart choices. Cooking is a life skill that employs math, science, and cognitive development, among other cross-discipline applications.  

Beyond life skills, a culinary arts lab will allow students to explore in-demand career opportunities. Jobs for cooks and head chefs are expected to grow 15 percent from 2021 to 2031, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. That’s much faster than the average for all occupations. 

How will updates to the technology rooms benefit students? 

Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) is a vital component of West Morris Regional High School District’s curriculum. Our district wants to provide students with spaces that inspire collaboration and 21st-century learning. Updates to our current technology rooms could be the spark that students need to dive into STEM-related career fields.  

The technology lab at WMC would get new flooring, improved  lighting, and general upgrades, while two technology rooms at WMM would get new flooring, drywall, air filtration, and lighting.  

How will a new public address system at WMM contribute to safety?

A modern public address system would reach all interior and exterior buildings to distribute reliable and widespread messaging. WMC’s public address system already meets these criteria, and therefore doesn’t need the same updates as WMM. 

What is the timeline for work to begin?  

If voters approve the referendum, the district can enter the next phase of selling bonds and seeking competitive construction bids. Construction could begin as soon as summer 2024 for certain projects.  

Work would be scheduled in coordination with the district to keep the level of disruption to a minimum. The projects are expected to be completed over three to four years.     

When was the last referendum? 

The district will soon finish paying off debt from a 2004 referendum. That referendum funded classroom additions, as well as other renovations and repairs.  


What is the total estimated cost of the projects? 

The total cost of the referendum is $26,047,276. This includes not just the work for the projects, but professional and permit fees, as well as a cushion calculated by the district’s financial advisors to account for market fluctuations and contingencies.  

How much state aid is expected to cover the project costs? 

The district worked with advisors to create a package of improvements that maximizes state aid to cover approximately 30 percent of the total project costs. This is $7,983,309 that the New Jersey Department of Education has committed to paying over the length of the bond pay-back period.  

This state aid is collected from taxpayers statewide but is only available to districts with voter-approved bond borrowing. This helps reduce the local tax burden and returns some state revenue back to citizens in the five communities served by the West Morris Regional High School District.  

How much will property taxes decrease? 

The district is close to making final payments on the debt incurred from the last referendum. If the current referendum is approved, it will cost taxpayers less than the last referendum. As a result, taxpayers would see on average an approximately 35 percent decrease in the school debt portion of their property tax bills.    

Visit the Cost Savings page to see the average cost and savings for each town.

How is the assessed value of a home different from the market value of a home? 

A home’s assessed value is used to calculate how much property tax a homeowner will pay. Market value is an estimate of how much a home could sell for in today’s market and is often higher than a home’s assessed value.  

You can check your home’s assessed value here.

If my assessment is higher or lower than the average, how can I estimate my level of investment? 

If your home’s assessment is different from the average listed in the table above, you can estimate your old debt cost and the new debt cost using the table and formula on the Cost Savings page of the website.

If the referendum passes, how long will it take to pay back the bonds? 

The cost of the projects would be spread over 20 years among everyone who pays property taxes in Chester Borough, Chester Township, Mendham Borough, Mendham Township, and Washington Township.

What happens if project costs are lower than estimated? 

The district cannot spend more than the amount the voters authorize in a school bond referendum and can only spend on the projects outlined in the proposal. If actual costs are lower than estimated, the money is used to reduce the debt, and therefore, reduce taxes. 

What happens if project costs are higher than anticipated? 

The district cannot spend more than the amount the voters authorize in a school bond referendum and cannot spend the money on anything except the projects outlined in the proposal. The district has thoroughly researched the project costs and built a contingency into the estimated price. If actual costs exceeded what voters approved, the district would have to adjust the plans. 


Who can vote in the special election on March 12, 2024? 

Anyone registered to vote with an address in one of the five sending communities (Chester Borough, Chester Township, Mendham Borough, Mendham Township, and Washington Township) can participate in the March 12, 2024 bond referendum.  

If your name or address recently changed, please check whether your registration is still valid. Check your registration here

If your registration is not valid, you may register online here. Print forms are also available on the “Vote” page of this website. 

Where can I vote in person? 

Polls will be open on Tuesday, March 12, 2024 from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Poll locations will be added here once they are confirmed with the county. 

Can I cast my vote by early voting? 

Early voting, per se, is not available for special elections such as this referendum.  However, voters may cast their vote in person at the county clerk’s office between March 5 and 3 p.m. on March 11. 

Can I sign up for Vote by Mail? 

Vote-by-mail is an option in this referendum. If you have already requested a ballot to be mailed to you and your address is unchanged, Morris County election officials will send you a vote-by-mail ballot automatically several weeks before the March vote date. To confirm your status for vote-by-mail, contact the Morris County Clerk’s Office at countyclerk@co.morris.nj.us or 973-285-6066. 

If you want to vote-by-mail but are not yet signed up, you can fill out an application. Additional information from the county is available here.  

Applications to vote-by-mail must arrive at the county clerk’s office no later than March 5. The actual mailed ballot must be postmarked for return on or before election day. 

How do I submit my vote-by-mail ballot?  

You may drop your Vote-by-mail at the County Clerk’s office by 8 p.m. on March 12.   Vote-by-mail ballots cannot be returned at polling places.  

If returning your vote-by-mail by mail, it must be postmarked on or before election day and received by the Board of Elections no later than six days after the close of polls.   

Was my vote-by-mail ballot received? 

You can track your ballot using the state’s voter portal. Setting up an account is free. This is the only way to reliably monitor the status of your ballot online.