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Ad Hoc Committee will take a look at restructuring grade levels to address unhoused students in Monroe

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MONROE – The Ad Hoc Committee formed to address student growth in the Monroe Township School District is hard at work.

Louis Masters, chairman of the committee, updated the Board of Education at a meeting on Sept. 4 on the board’s progress after two committee meetings.

With two failed referendums proposing the construction of a new middle school, school officials are going back to the drawing board.

In April, Board of Education President Kathy Kolupanowich set up an ad hoc committee welcoming all residents to provide input for what the board’s next steps would be.

Masters said a lot of people have come together from all walks of life to collaboratively solve the growth problem. The committee so far has vetted 33 proposals dwindling the number to 12 proposals/general ideas.

“We took these ideas and pulled pieces out of each one,” Masters said, adding the committee has used a target number of 3,000 unhoused students – the number as of May 31 – based on the board’s existing long-range facilities plan.

Monroe Township High School was found to have 519 unhoused, or in excess, students and Monroe Township Middle School was found to have 458 unhoused students.

On the elementary level, Oak Tree Elementary was found to have the most unhoused students with 288; Applegarth Elementary has 186, Mill Lake Elementary has 80; and Barclay Elementary has 21 unhoused students, according to the plan.

Woodland and Brookside Elementary schools had negative unhoused students at negative 79 and negative 16, respectively.

Now the committee has four draft ideas, which they will begin to vet and welcome public input.

“The four draft ideas are pieces of different proposals received with common threads that run through each one of them,” Masters said. “Basically we are restructuring elementary school grade levels, adding on to elementary schools and looking at some grades in high school and middle school.”

All draft proposals include a high school with grades 10-12, a middle school with grades 8 and 9, an intermediary school and elementary schools.

One proposal includes additions to all six elementary schools; one proposal includes replacing Applegarth Elementary school; another proposal includes a new intermediary school with grades 6 to 7 and switching all elementary schools to kindergarten to fifth grade; and the fourth proposal includes a new intermediary school with grades 5 to 7 and elementary schools with grades kindergarten through fourth grade.

On March 12 voters defeated a two-question, $146 million referendum.

The first question asked voters if they were in favor of building a new middle school on a 35-acre site at Applegarth and Cranbury Station roads. The school would have housed 1,000 students and cost $75 million to build. The first question was defeated by 995 votes.

The second question asked voters if they were in favor of building an addition to Monroe Township High School on Schoolhouse Road at a cost of $71 million. The proposed high school addition was contingent on the passage of the middle school question. The second question was defeated by 1,152 votes.

This is the second referendum put forth by the board which residents have defeated. In 2018, a $68.8 million referendum that proposed the construction of a new middle school was defeated by 143 votes.

For the referendums, school officials said they have expended $70,000 for poll workers.

Administrators, when promoting the referendum, said they will find themselves with a “huge gaping hole” in the educational system if the need for a new middle school is not addressed.

The current Monroe Township Middle School on Perrineville Road is operating beyond its functional capacity and has already required the installation of 10 temporary classroom trailers, officials said.

The middle school’s current enrollment is 1,710 students. The projected enrollment for 2021 is 2,072 students. The building, which is the district’s former high school, was constructed to house 1,100 students.

Contact Kathy Chang at kchang@newspapermediagroup.com.

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