Manalapan-Englishtown board member: School district consolidation not a certainty

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Pending legislation that would force certain New Jersey school districts to consolidate with other school districts will die if it is not enacted by January, according to a local school board member.

During the Oct. 15 meeting of the Manalapan-Englishtown Regional School District Board of Education, board member Janet Lewis reported on an Oct. 10 meeting of the Monmouth County Chapter of the New Jersey School Boards Association (NJSBA) she attended.

Lewis said proposed state legislation that has been dubbed the “Path to Progress” was a topic of discussion at that meeting. Portions of the “Path to Progress” involve the consolidation of school districts.

In her report to the Manalapan-Englishtown board, Lewis said school district consolidation “does not seem to be going anywhere. If the bills proposing the consolidation are not voted on by January they will disappear and the process will have to start all over.”

Lewis reminded her fellow board members that the idea to reduce the number of school districts in New Jersey – there are more than 600 – goes back more than a decade to the administration of Gov. John Corzine.

No legislation has been enacted since that time that would force one school district to consolidate with another school district.

A summary of the pending legislation provided by the NJSBA states that one bill “contains a requirement that county school superintendents develop regionalization plans to merge all K-4, K-6, K-8, 7-12 and 9-12 districts into K-12 regional school systems, provide funding for regionalization studies, and set up a pilot program permitting the establishment of countywide school districts. The legislation does not call for a public vote on the regionalization plans.”

Reached for comment on Oct. 17, Janet Bamford, manager, Communications and Publications, for the NJSBA, said, “At this time, we have seen no real movement on the bills; a few have been voted out of committee, but none have been approved by the state Senate.

“We would expect the issues under consideration in the bills to be under discussion by the Legislature in the coming weeks and months, however, as far as we know, there is not a consensus on these bills moving to the governor’s desk,” Bamford said.

In her report to the board about what was discussed at the Oct. 10 meeting she attended, Lewis said, “It doesn’t seem (consolidation) will save the money that the (people who support the move) thought it would. They have no idea and no answers what to do with a district like ours,” which is K-8 and feeds to the Freehold Regional High School District.

In lieu of full-scale school district consolidation, “they are trying to have small school districts talk about consolidating shared services,” Lewis said.

In other business, Superintendent of Schools John J. Marciante Jr. announced that Robert Williams, who has been the principal at the Manalapan Englishtown Middle School (MEMS) for more than two decades, will retire on Jan. 1.

“Mr. Williams has been the face of MEMS for 26 years,” Marciante said. “He will be impossible to replace. I want to thank him for all of the children he has made an impression on. He is someone the district has been very lucky to have. When his former students see him down at the shore they thank him and they introduce their children to him.”

Finally, the board members approved an increase in the amount that may be paid to the Weiner Law Group in connection with its representation of the district in litigation involving New Jersey’s school funding formula. The not to exceed cost that may be paid to the law firm has been increased to $35,000.