Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Clifton's Use of Annex Fades but Not the Debate

Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Clifton's Use of Annex Fades but Not the Debate

Article excerpt

CLIFTON -- The high school annex, a multimillion-dollar project born into a storm of public criticism, followed by legal fights and environmental messes, wasn't so necessary as a remedy to school crowding after all, the district's top official said.

Superintendent Richard Tardalo, who last month called the need for the annex a "fantasy," announced in a letter to middle school parents that ninth-graders beginning in September no longer will attend class in the Brighton Road annex building, but go to the main high school on Colfax Avenue. The annex, he said, only would be used for students with special academic needs who belong to a program called ASPIRE.

Meanwhile, one former school board member interviewed on Friday defended the decision to build the annex, and said the building still could be useful when enrollment swings up again in the future.

Ever since the annex was proposed, the project faced a torrent of public criticism, aside from environmental and legal problems, as well as several cost overruns.

Voters in 2004 approved the use of $11 million in taxpayer money to purchase a former textile building for extra high school classroom space, a project championed by former Superintendent Michael Rice. At the time, Rice projected that high school enrollment would balloon to more than 3,800 students within a few years.

Total high school enrollment has steadily declined in the past six years, from a peak of about 3,300 in 2011 to slightly less than 3,000 this year, according to district records. The annex, which can hold 500 students, has not been at full capacity since it opened in 2009, and this year's enrollment of 357 students is its lowest yet.

Rice, now superintendent of schools in Kalamazoo, Mich., could not be reached for comment on Friday.

Tardalo did not respond to requests for comment this week, but he has said there is plenty of room at the high school for all of the grades.

His decision and recent comments seem to vindicate opponents of the annex project, chief among them former board member Michael Paitchell, who said on Friday that board members and administrators ignored the district's own data in pursuit of expanding the school system. …

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