Nestled within the Pinelands in the Dorothy section of Weymouth Township is one school that is home to 150 students from preschool through eighth grade.
It is the only school for this township of 2,700, and just the type that would be consolidated, based on recommendations issued from a group studying ways to achieve fiscal savings statewide.
“It’s no secret that New Jersey continues to struggle with inefficiencies at all levels of government that result in higher costs and reduced services,” said state Sen. Steve Sweeney, who convened the group and who announced its findings last week. “We have to be willing to take the actions needed to maintain fiscal stability and promote economic responsibility.”
Almost 80 percent of the school districts in South Jersey would be affected by the report’s proposal to create only kindergarten through 12th grade districts by merging those not currently operating that way. While some oppose the plan in favor of home rule, others have expressed support, at least in having the conversation.
Weymouth Township school board member Henry Goldsmith said he doesn’t really see a problem with consolidation, but wants the state to take the lead with implementation and providing funding. That, he said, is his personal opinion and not necessarily how others in his township feel.
“I think that regionalization and merging of districts is definitely the way to go,” Goldsmith said. “There could be tremendous efficiencies.”
Weymouth Township sends students to Buena Regional High School.
Another strong supporter of consolidation is Lower Cape May Regional Superintendent Chris Kobik, whose district already serves seventh through 12th graders from four towns in the lower half of Cape May County through a regional agreement.
With 590 school districts in New Jersey, more than 200 in the state are involved in a sendin…
At about 1,300 students, Lower Cape May Regional has been shrinking each year and received large aid cuts in the last two state budgets. Presumably, under the recommendations, Lower Cape May and its sending districts of Lower Township, Cape May and West Cape May would all merge into one regional district, likely operating much of the same way they are now, but with a different taxing system and a streamlined curriculum.
Kobik said resistance to merging districts comes down to funding.
“It’s all about the funding. And we all know that there are a number of communities in New Jersey that pay very, very little in school taxes,” he said. “So when we start to look at regionalization in order to properly fund larger regional school districts, those communities would need to contribute.”
Cape May County is home to four public high schools for its 16 towns, which includes three non-operating districts. Here, not everyone supports Sweeney’s proposal, despite their efforts currently to share services and reduce spending.
Stone Harbor and Avalon have the distinction of being two of the smallest school districts in the state, with a combined 120 students in kindergarten through eighth grade.
Superintendent Stacey Tracy is the chief school administrator for both districts, which split grades between their two schools and share staff. Students from the island currently attend Middle Township High School via a tuition agreement.
Tracy said her district is already basically consolidated and she has no plans to take that further into a K-12 district.
“I have really no opinion about regionalization. I will say it will not work in Avalon and Stone Harbor,” Tracy said when reached via email this week.
She said the recommendations from Sweeney’s work group are just recommendations.
“The taxes in both boroughs, Avalon and Stone Harbor, are very low. Regionalization will raise taxes for both boroughs. We have researched the impact of regionalization when we decided to merge the schools,” she said.
However, legally, the state can take action to mandate schools to consolidate through the Legislature.
The group that developed the recommendations to merge district looked to Maryland, which implements a countywide school district approach, for guidance on how to move forward.
But the report doesn’t describe how districts would merge — either by regionalization, consolidation or shared services. The report does recommend establishing two countywide school districts as a pilot program.
Kobik and Goldsmith both agreed regionalization is easier said than done. Kobik said particularly in areas with declining populations, such as Cape May County, the topic should be explored even if they weren’t at the point to move forward.
“It’s not a simple process and the funding is really the major hurdle,” Kobik said. “People like to talk about consolidation, but do they really have the stomach for it? I don’t know.”