By Matthew Sockol
MILLSTONE – More than 1,100 students entered the three buildings that make up the Millstone Township K-8 School District for the beginning of the 2016-17 school year.
According to administrators, enrollment for the new academic year stands at 1,141 pupils, which is slightly less than the 1,173 pupils who were enrolled in the district’s three schools in 2015-16.
The 2016-17 enrollment consists of 60 pupils in pre-kindergarten; 91 pupils in kindergarten; 92 pupils in first grade; 97 pupils in second grade; 99 pupils in third grade; 112 pupils in fourth grade; 128 pupils in fifth grade; 158 pupils in sixth grade; 155 pupils in seventh grade; and 149 pupils in eighth grade.
Because Millstone Township does not have a high school, the district has a send-receive relationship with the Upper Freehold Regional School District in which high school students who reside in Millstone attend Allentown High School in the regional district.
Millstone will pay $12,681 for each student from Millstone who attends Allentown High School during the 2016-17 school year.
The number of Millstone residents who attend Allentown High School was a topic of discussion at the Millstone Board of Education’s Sept. 12 meeting.
For the 2016-17 school year, Millstone administrators projected that 588 Millstone residents would enroll at Allentown. Upper Freehold Regional administrators projected that 621 Millstone residents would attend the high school.
The projection of the number of Millstone residents who will attend Allentown in a given school year is submitted by Dec. 15 of the preceding school year (i.e., the 2016-17 projection was submitted on Dec. 15, 2015), according to Millstone Superintendent of Schools Scott Feder.
At the Millstone meeting, Upper Freehold Regional School District Board of Education Vice President Rick Smith voiced his frustration about what he said he considers to be a lack of communication between the two boards.
Smith said he believes the boards need to hold a joint meeting. He cited the disagreement over enrollment as an example of an issue that could be resolved if the boards met together.
In explaining his frustration, Smith said 617 Millstone residents attended Allentown High School at the beginning of 2016-17 school year, which was 29 students more than Millstone projected on Dec. 15, 2015, and Smith said Millstone’s projection was below the actual number of Millstone residents attending Allentown in recent years.
Feder responded by saying the figure of 617 Millstone students in Allentown as the 2016-17 school year opened was based on incomplete data and did not factor in information used to determine the exact amount of tuition that Millstone owes Upper Freehold Regional.
According to Upper Freehold Regional Business Administrator Margaret Hom, the district only charges for students who are on roll. When calculating the tuition that is owed, a student who is enrolled full-time for the entire school year is counted as a 1 and a student who is enrolled on a half-time basis is counted as 0.5 by the district, she said.
Using a document dated Sept. 9 that Upper Freehold Regional provided, Millstone Business Administrator Bernard Biesiada calculated that Millstone would owe Upper Freehold Regional for 601.5 students at the time.
Hom calculated that Millstone would owe Upper Freehold Regional for 605 students at the time, with one student possibly not being counted in the tuition amount.
Officials indicated those calculations are fluid and subject to change during the year.
An official calculation of the tuition owed by Millstone and other school districts to Upper Freehold Regional will not be made until after the end of September, according to Hom.
Millstone board member Billy Hanson, who serves as Millstone’s representative on the Upper Freehold Regional board, said he was frustrated with the relationship between the two public bodies.
Stating that the members of both boards have the best interests of their students in mind, Hanson said he believes the boards need to move forward and look toward working together.
Hanson suggested that subcommittees be formed to allow the boards to discuss current and future issues.
Millstone board Vice President Kevin McGovern acknowledged there were communication issues between the panels, but he said a joint meeting would not have prevented discrepancies between the December 2015 projection and the actual enrollment of Millstone residents at Allentown High School for 2016-17 because of an increase in Millstone students over the summer.
According to Millstone administrators, 90 new students registered over the summer, 29 of whom were of high school age.
McGovern said the responsibility of calculating enrollment costs lies with district administrators.
As stated by Feder, Millstone and Upper Freehold Regional administrators have been communicating about the number of students for which Millstone will owe Upper Freehold Regional tuition.
According to Millstone board President Margaret Gordon, the two boards had agreed to schedule a joint meeting to be held in May.
After the Upper Freehold Regional board filed a lawsuit against the Millstone board in April, Gordon said, legal counsel advised that a joint meeting should be delayed until the pending litigation is resolved. The Millstone board accepted the advice offered by its counsel.
The lawsuit, which was submitted to the New Jersey Department of Education, concerns the Millstone board paying tuition for Millstone residents who enroll in specialized programs at Red Bank Regional High School in Little Silver. Upper Freehold Regional claims the payment of that tuition to Red Bank Regional is unlawful and Millstone is contesting that claim.