Wantage schools cut costs, boost renovations

Recent renovations in Wantage schools have drawn attention for one major reason - no referendum money was used.

Wantage schools now have all the amenities one would expect from a suburban New Jersey school district, including a summer reading program. But just a few years ago the Sussex Wantage Regional School District faced a crisis.

The schools were in disrepair and extensive renovations to the tune of $20 million were needed. The public soon rejected a referendum that would have allotted the money to the district.

Then something unusual happened. New school board members were elected and promised to make all the repairs within the district's budget. The board kept its promise, getting the renovations done without asking for additional help.

Now many are asking how they accomplished it.

First, the board set out to cut costs. They switched insurance brokers, which resulted in $300,000 worth of savings. Instead of replacing every window in the school, they decided to refinish them.

Wantage School Board members have now turned their attention to what they say is a disgrace - the new construction bill signed this week by Gov. Jon Corzine.

The bill is expected to result in about $4 billion worth of loans to build new schools, including $200 million for one school alone.

"That's very disturbing. More than disturbing, it's outright - it's a disgrace," says Board of Education member Art Jacobs.

Jacobs says that if his small school district could save $20 million, imagine what could be done in state-run districts.

"They build these Taj Mahals for the Abbott districts. There's no need for that," says Jacobs about the districts located in the state's most impoverished areas.

With the school repairs done, Sussex Wantage is now focused on its next project, a brand new board of education office. To complete that task, they bought a run-down building for $1. With the help of inmates on work release, they hope to complete the project for less than six figures.

Kane In Your Corner:Sussex Wantage Regional School District31 Ryan RoadWantage, NJ 07461973-875-2634

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