After last year’s Pennsauken Township Committee race the Pennsauken School District Bond Referendum became the hot topic in town. Many may recall at the time I was a supporter of most of the referendum with the exception of the plan to build a park at the site of the to be demolished Longfellow School. The Pennsauken School District’s plan was to use $500,000 from the referendum to build a community park once the school was demolished. The total cost of the project was $800,000. That included $300,000 to demolish the school and $500,000 to build the park. I felt and continue to feel this is a gross misuse of tax payer funding.
As I attended Board of Education and Bond Referendum meetings the story around the proposed park at Longfellow continued to change. First Pennsauken Schools Superintendent Tarchichi said the land needed be retained and the park would be temporary in the event school population increased and a new school needed to be built. When residents complained about the District spending $500,000 on a temporary park the story changed and we were told the park would not be temporary and if a new school was needed in the future it would be build at a different location. When questioned at a School Board meeting Pennsauken Board of Education President Nick Perry said that this is not a public park but a place where Pennsauken students could “study birds and butterflies”. This was a curious statement since all of the referendum presentations called the park a public park.
At the time many residents were against the Pennsauken School District getting into the public park business. Pennsauken Township has a Parks and Recreation department that is in charge of public parks within the township. It is the responsibility of Pennsauken Township, not the Pennsauken School District, to provide and maintain public parks. Additionally the cost of this park will exceed the initial $500,000 in development costs due to ongoing maintenance of the property. Many of us found this outrageous. School District funds should go to student education not a public park. Most of those who supported the park were neighbors concerned about what the property might become and wanted a park in their neighborhood. There were also those who supported the park because they felt that with the park included in the plan opposition to the park meant the referendum would not pass.
A member of Pennsauken Township leadership brokered a meeting between Pennsauken School District Superintendent Tarchichi and I. At that meeting Superintendent Tarchichi committed to me that should the referendum pass the park at the site of Longfellow School would not be build until residents were surveyed. Because the referendum specified the $500,000 in funding for the park if the residents voted no to the park by law those funds would be returned to Pennsauken taxpayers. Dr. Tarchichi said we’d have further conversations about the criteria for the survey. At the time I made the following post on social media.
Comfortable that the park would not be build unless a majority of residents agreed and in support of the rest of the programs the referendum would allow I became a vocal supporter of the referendum and Superintendent Tarchichi’s plan for the district. Little did I know at the time my trust was misplaced and I’d be made a fool of.
In March the referendum passed. I was pleased and excited for our town, the district and our students. The night of the referendum vote I attended a reception at the Pennsauken Country Club. Superintendent Tarchichi made a moving speech. That night I was proud to have done my small part to help the referendum pass.
It was now time to discuss the Longfellow park survey as Superintendent Tarchichi had committed. It was brought to my attention on Sunday April 8, 2018 that the survey was posted on the District web site with no announcement or notice to residents. The survey stated “For those voting no, you MUST include a viable alternative to the proposed park in order for your “no vote” to count.” This was ridiculous. This is not the agreement I had with Superintendent Tarchichi. I was told that residents would be surveyed on the park plan. That did not include having to propose an alternative for our no votes to count. I do not have an advanced degree in city planning and I should not be responsible for developing an alternate plan because I oppose a $500,000 misuse of taxpayer funds. Asking for a suggestion is fine. Telling residents that our no vote will not count unless we propose an alternative plan is stacking the deck. I also opposed the language “viable alternative”. Who decided if someone’s idea was “viable”? This language would allow the District to disqualify no votes if they find someone’s idea is not “viable”. This was unacceptable! The survey also did not state when voting would end. The District could have looked at voting results and end voting anytime. If they happened to see one more “Yes” vote than “No” vote they could have ended voting at that moment and move forward with the park plan.
On May 21, 2018, before the survey had even closed, an article was published on Philly.com stating that Longfellow School would be replaced with a park. I guess the School District was going to build a park no matter what the residents said. I felt like a fool for trusting Superintendent Tarchichi and supporting the referendum without the removal of the plan to build the park.
The survey closed in May 2018. Today is October 5, 2018. The School District has failed to release the results of the survey. I’ve looked for an announcement on the survey results and could find nothing. I searched All Around Pennsauken using the search criteria “Longfellow Park Survey”. Here were the results.
I went to the link on the School District web site where the survey was originally posted
I went to the School District web site and searched “Longfellow Park Survey”
Why the big secret? It’s been months since the survey closed. Why will the Pennsauken School District not provide Pennsauken residents the results of the survey? We were not given an opportunity to participate in the survey criteria, we were given no notice or announcement when the survey went up, we were given no end date and now we cannot get the results.
I consider this anything but a fair execution of the survey and feel foolish to have been manipulated by Superintendent Tarchichi. Still I’d love an answer from the School District as to how many people voted in total, how many people voted for the park and how many voted against.
It seems the status quo in Pennsauken continues. A few control the power. Residents have no say as to what happens in our town. We just have to deal with it. What will it take to facilitate much needed change in Pennsauken?
Frank Sinatra, who is the Editor of All Around Pennsauken, handles communications for Pennsauken Township and the Pennsauken School District, and was in charge of the survey corrected me on social media. There was a small mention in All Around Pennsauken (on Page 6) about the survey in the September 2018 issue (four months after the survey ended).
I still ask the questions;
- Why did we have to wait four months to get any mention of the results of the survey. When the results were finally mentioned why was it a small mention on Page 6 of All Around Pennsauken that is unsearchable on the AAP web site?
- Sinatra loves to post positive propaganda on social media. Why no mention of the survey results?
- Why are the survey results not mentioned on the School District web site?
- Why we were only provided vague percentages rather then detail on the survey results? The School District, sensing that residents were questioning the validity and honesty of the survey, should have provided complete detail on the survey if they wanted to satisfy resident concerns.
I stand behind my prior statements. This was handled in a dishonest and shady manner from the start.