McCooley Sweeney

Pinelands Regional Superintendent Melissa McCooley speaks with state Senate President Steve Sweeney during the New Jersey School Boards Association Workshop 2018 in Atlantic City last week. Sweeney gave a legislative update and spoke about school consolidation.

A few months after hiring a new, shared superintendent, the Pinelands Regional School District is looking for a new business administrator, opening up the opportunity to expand shared services in the district.

In a state with nearly 600 separate school districts, shared services are common. Efforts to consolidate over the years have been met with pushback from districts that prefer home rule, but a recent report from Senate President Steve Sweeney promotes creating regional school districts.

Business Administrator Steve Brennan, who confirmed Wednesday he is leaving the district for a new position in Barnegat Township, is already shared with Bass River Township through an interlocal agreement. Superintendent Melissa McCooley, who also serves as the school leader for Little Egg Harbor Township, said the business administrator position will remain a shared position.

McCooley also said she supports Sweeney’s plan for consolidation.

“I believe that Sen. Sweeney’s plan towards consolidation is reasonable, fiscally responsible and still allows parents to send their children to the school in the town they purchased a home in,” McCooley said last week.

She said it also levels the playing field for the students entering a regional school district. The Pinelands Regional Board of Education serves 1,580 students in grades seven through 12 from Little Egg Harbor Township, Tuckerton and Eagleswood Township in Ocean County and Bass River Township in Burlington County.

At the New Jersey School Boards Association Workshop in Atlantic City last week, Sweeney spoke about consolidation during his legislative update.

The report recommends the consolidation of all K-4, K-5, K-6 and K-8 districts into regional K-12 high school districts, which the report states would improve educational quality at the same time that it generates savings.

“We’re not talking about eliminating neighborhood schools,” Sweeney said. “We’re talking about eliminating separate superintendents and school business administrators for a lot of one-schoolhouse districts.”

During the meeting, McCooley said she introduced herself to Sweeney to remind him she is a shared superintendent. She said Sweeney’s plan would help with state aid cuts.

“For the ‘18-’19 school year, both the Little Egg Harbor and Pinelands school districts had a significant amount of state funding cut. In difficult economic times, it is essential that school districts continue to provide a quality education the smartest way possible,” McCooley said.

Brennan, of Stafford Township, has worked at Pinelands Regional for 11 years. He said his last day is Dec. 14. Brennan said that during his tenure, Pinelands Regional has had a number of shared-service agreements with its sending districts, including for child study team, food service and IT.

He said the interlocal agreement signed last spring with Bass River ends in June 2019.

Brennan said consolidation would be educationally and fiscally advantageous for Pinelands.

“It’s certainly worth the investigation into that,” he said.

Contact: 609-272-7251 Twitter @clairelowe

Staff Writer

I began covering South Jersey in 2008 after graduating from Rowan University with a degree in journalism. I joined The Press in 2015. In 2013, I was awarded a NJPA award for feature writing as a reporter for The Current of Hamilton Township.

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