Woodbine's small school district has applied to the state to stop sending its high school students to Millville High School and instead send them to Middle Township High School in Cape May Court House.
Woodbine Superintendent Lynda Anderson-Towns said the plan would move the students closer to their Cape May County hometown and would save the district money on the tuition they pay to the high school district, which is located in Cumberland County. The move has the support of both high school districts.
"Millville has done a good job with our students," she said. "But Middle Township really is just a better fit for our students. It's smaller, and closer."
Middle Township High School has about 900 students. Millville has about 1,900 in the Senior High School and Memorial High School. Millville has been grappling with overcrowding, while Middle Township has seen shrinking enrollment from its other sending districts of Stone Harbor, Avalon and Dennis Township.
If approved in time, the eighth-graders who graduated this year will attend Middle Township High School in September. Students already attending Millville High School would continue there until graduation.
A state Department of Education spokesman said they are waiting for final documentation from Millville, and could not give an estimate on when a decision would be made.
The move would save Woodbine hundreds of thousands of dollars in annual tuition paid to the receiving district. Anderson-Towns said tuition to Millville is now about $14,000 per student, compared with about $10,000 per student to Middle Township.
Anderson-Towns said typically about 18 students are in the eighth-grade class, and about one-third attend the Cape May County Vocational High School in Cape May Court House. If approved, this year about a dozen Woodbine students would go to Middle Township, saving the district about $48,000. That is the equivalent of almost 3 cents on the school tax rate in Woodbine, where 1 cent per $100 of property valuation raises only $17,000.
"It's not a lot of money, but it's a lot to us," Anderson-Towns said. Once all four grades are at Middle Township, the savings could approach $200,000 per year.
Transportation costs also would be lower since Middle Township High School is only about 12 miles from Woodbine, while Millville High School is almost 20 miles away.
Anderson-Towns said the proximity would make it easier for students to participate in sports and extra-curricular activities. She said students already participate in sports teams throughout Cape May County, and could just continue on with the same children in high school.
Since both Middle Township and Millville have supported the change, school officials are hoping the approval process will go smoothly. The two primary factors considered when schools end a sending/receiving relationship are the financial impact, and the impact on the racial diversity of the schools. Because the enrollment from Woodbine is so small, the impact on racial diversity would be negligible.
Millville Superintendent David Gentile said the school board discussed the loss of revenue but decided that money is not a strong enough reason to deny Woodbine's request.
"Our board discussed their request fully and support the move as it appears to be in the best interest of the Woodbine community," Gentile said in an e-mail.
Middle Township Superintendent Michael Kopakowski said it just makes sense to have students attend a high school in their own area.
"Sometimes, our buses would ride by the students from Woodbine," he said. "We're already in that area."
Anderson-Towns said she has been working hard to improve test scores in Woodbine so there would not be a concern about the quality of the education students in Woodbine receive. Towns worked as an assistant principal in Middle Township, and Kopakowski said he is impressed with the work she is doing in Woodbine.
Middle Township High School staff has met with the potential students and are preparing preliminary schedules for them so they can make a smooth transition into the high school.
The proposed move has been discussed for decades, especially as tuition costs continued to rise. Residents have wondered how Woodbine students came to attend Millville High School in the first place.
Woodbine Mayor William Pikolycky said research he did for the town's centennial indicates that in the early 1900s, when Woodbine was a new Jewish settlement, Millville was the only district that would accept the Jewish students. He said Woodbine did have its own high school for a while, but that school closed after World War II and students returned to Millville.
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