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Freeholders Introduce Ordinances to Create Union County’s First Magnet High School

By PAUL J. PEYTON for The Westfield Leader and The Times

Following an impassioned plea by Union County Vocational Technical Schools Superintendent Dr. Thomas J. Bistocchi, the Democratic-controlled Board of Chosen Freeholders unanimously introduced ordinances last Thursday to authorize the spending of $5.1 million to create the county’s first magnet high school for intense study of science, mathematics and technology. The project entails renovating an existing 53,000-square-foot building on the vocational-technical schools’ campus.

The schools’ Board of School Estimate approved the project the night before the Freeholders’ meeting. Republican Freeholder Edwin H. Force asked if the board was obligated to approve the expenditure since the Board of School Estimate had certified its approval. Assistant County Counsel Jeremiah O’Dwyer said the board was now required to raise the funds based on this Board of School Estimate’s action.

The Democrats, while saying they fully supported the magnet school concept, were a bit miffed about the total cost of the project. Just last September the four Democrats on the board at the time refused to yield by adding the one additional vote the Republican majority needed to move the project forward.

The Democrats, who took the majority after sweeping the Republicans on Election Day, said back in the fall that they were concerned about the overall spending of millions of dollars proposed under several capital projects endorsed by the Republicans.

Last week, however, the new majority decided in the end to support the school which will occupy an existing building which has been vacant for some 10 years. The building was previously utilized by Union County College.

During the roll call vote on the first of the related ordinances, the three Republicans on the board decided to pass on their votes until Freeholder Walter D. McNeil, Jr. had issued his tally.

A total of $3.5 million will be utilized to convert the building into a magnet school. An additional $1.77 million will be appropriated for the acquisition of and installation of computers, software, furnishings and communications network systems, designs and renovations, including the renovation of the vocational-technical schools’ technology building in Scotch Plains. Also included in this cost is various interior renovations and improvements and the purchase of furnishings and equipment.

A total of $350,000 will be appropriated for the replacement of electrical equipment and machinery for the vocational-technical school.

Democratic Freeholder Nicholas P. Scutari said, after hearing the $5.1 million proposal, that he envisioned a new building would be constructed, rather than renovating an existing structure, as is the case. He said the money could perhaps be better used to improve educational programs for the individual school districts which would reach a much wider range of students.

Dr. Bistocchi explained that the building which will be utilized was constructed in the mid-1960s. He said the magnet school will create "a tremendous learning environment" for students.

He explained that all bids for the project have been accepted although no contracts have been signed pending the outcome of action by the Freeholders. Among the bids accepted are general construction, $1,955,950; sprinkler system, $123,000; plumbing, $337,000; heating and air conditioning system, $1,232,714; electrical $558,000, and built-in laboratory equipment, $155,000, for a total of $4,361,714.

Another $339,000 is for equipment including a T1 line which will enable the school to provide access to the Internet. He said this will be the "forerunner" to a campus-wide network. Architectural fees have been placed at $349,119.

Dr. Bistocchi said the magnet school would be headed by a curriculum director at a salary in the high $50,000 bracket. He said discipline problems, failure and student boredom would not be tolerated in the school. He said he has two applicants (one woman and one man) in mind for the post, both under 30 years of age.

Democratic Freeholder McNeil, Chairman of the board’s Finance Committee, asked Dr. Bistocchi whether the project could have been done in a less expensive manner. He said the board has other projects pending, such as improvements at the county college (which have been approved) and at the county’s juvenile detention center, and thus is concerned over the total cost.

Dr. Bistocchi said a new high-tech building would cost $150 per square foot. He said there is not another building on campus or a way to create a magnet school less expensively than the proposed plan.

In defending the vocational-technical schools’ program in general, he told the board that by increasing enrollment, per pupil costs over the past several years have dropped from $20,000 to $14,000. He said enrollment has increased from 400 to the current 700 figure. He also noted the vocational-technical schools’ board has presented two consecutive budgets with increases of less than 1 percent.

Dr. Bistocchi said, in a response to an inquiry by Democratic Freeholder Donald Goncalves, the per pupil cost is expected to decline a little bit lower before reaching a plateau.

The school, which is set to open this fall and will have an initial freshman class of 65 students, has already received 132 applications from students throughout the county. The school, which will be complete with grades 9 through 12 by the year 2000, will have a maximum enrollment of approximately 300 students.

"This is not a school for every kid. This is a school for a couple hundred kids who want to take a challenge," said Dr. Bistocchi, noting that no other school system in the county has such an intensive program in its curriculum.

He explained that Middlesex and Sussex Counties both have planned to open magnet schools two years from now while the Morris County Vocational School is planning to open such a program in the 1998-1999 school year. Salem County also is considering such a school. Dr. Bistocchi said Bergen County has a magnet school, while Monmouth County has three.

Dr. Bistocchi promised the board that two years from now 10 students will apply for every one opening at the school.

"This will be the finest academic high school, public or private, in this county," he told the board, in responding to an inquiry by Freeholder Scutari over how the school will rank among other high schools.

He explained that unlike the vocational-technical programs where students spend half the day learning a vocation and the rest of the day in their home district, the magnet school will be a complete full-day program with no study periods and a short lunch recess.

"The last thing this county needs is another comprehensive high school," Dr. Bistocchi said, noting that a high school that challenges students is what the county needs.

Democratic Freeholder Carol I. Cohen questioned Dr. Bistocchi as to the transportation costs for students attending the magnet school. He said each student's home district would be responsible for this cost although several districts may want to pool together to lower the overall expense.

Following the magnet school discussion and during the public portion of the meeting, Nancy Glynn of Scotch Plains said she wanted the name of each of the sharpshooters, currently participating in the county’s deer management plan, to be put on a bulletin board in the Watchung Reservation. She said county counsel has told that her request cannot be done.

She thanked Freeholders Linda d. Stender, Chairwoman of the board, and Freeholder Henry W. Kurz for voting against the deer hunt the last time it came before the board.

Margaret Cook of Fanwood asked each board member to state his or her position on the hunt.

The Freeholders said they support the program in absence of a viable alternative, noting that imuneocontraception has yet to be approved by the federal government and still is not lawful in the state. This process involves injecting the deer once and then finding the same doe and injecting it with the drug again.

Freeholder Kurz said a second alternative, currently being studied by a Rutgers University professor, involves a single injection which will cause the doe to abort its fetus. The problem, he explained, is that there is no way to tell where the doe will deliver the fetus. He said the overpopulation of deer is cutting off the food supply to smaller animals.

Freeholder Edwin H. Force, a Republican, noted that the deer hunt has not been an easy decision for board members. He said without another solution at this time the county must control the deer population. He said county officials have continually received calls from towns throughout the county that have been faced with deer venturing into their communities.

Under appointments, the board reappointed Dr. Jerome Feder and Rosemary Millet of Westfield to the Union County Air Traffic Noise Advisory Board. The terms are for two years commencing on December 31 of next year.

Sal Antonelli of Westfield, a local realtor and real estate appraiser, was appointed to the Union County Parks and Recreation Board. He currently serves on the Westfield Recreation Commission.

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08/06/97.

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