A decision to consolidate the Port Monmouth and New Monmouth elementary schools in Middletown infuriated hundreds of residents during a meeting on March 11.
The decision caused some people to verbally threaten Superintendent of Schools William George III.
George was accompanied to his vehicle by a police officer following a meeting at Middletown High School North during which members of the Middletown Township Public Schools Board of Education voted to close the Port Monmouth Elementary School.
The board’s action means that beginning in September, children who would have attended the Port Monmouth school will attend the New Monmouth Elementary School. The buildings are about 2 miles apart.
Administrators said the move to consolidate the schools came after the school district saw another reduction in its state aid and a decrease in enrollment at the Port Monmouth school.
Some Port Monmouth parents said the move to a different school would take a mental toll on their children and force the youngsters to leave a close-knit school community.
Board members said it was not financially feasible to keep the Port Monmouth school open.
During the meeting at the high school, hundreds of residents excoriated board members for considering the consolidation of the schools.
“Due to state budget cuts, our district is facing difficult financial realities,” George said in explaining the move.
The Port Monmouth Elementary School, 202 Main St., currently educates 194 pupils in kindergarten through fifth grade.
The New Monmouth Elementary School, 121 New Monmouth Road, currently educates 461 pupils in prekindergarten through fifth grade.
George previously said closing a school is not ideal.
Residents who made comments about the move cited concerns with potential overcrowding at the New Monmouth school, class size, transportation, staff cuts and the mental well being of the children who would be impacted by the action.
Some parents said they were blindsided by what they called a hasty decision to close a school. Others who spoke suggested that board members reduce other areas of the 2020-21 budget to keep the Port Monmouth school open. Some parents asked board members to postpone the decision.
During comments by board members, Joan Minnuies said, “It is the misinformation that is going out in emails … There was an email here that was written by the board saying the board leadership reached out to the Township Committee saying we (board members) are hoping to repurpose (the Port Monmouth school) as a community center or a recreation center.
“That is something I had no idea you did on my behalf. This is the kind of communication that upsets an entire community … If we don’t have money to keep this school open how do we repurpose the (Port Monmouth) school?” she asked.
Board President Pamela Rogers said the idea of converting the Port Monmouth school into a community center was discussed “in casual conversation” and is not to be recognized as a final course of action.
Following the meeting’s adjournment, dozens of people gathered outside the high school and children and adults could be seen yelling and crying. Some people could be heard saying they wanted George to “face us after what he has done” as the superintendent exited the building.
As George exited the high school some people called him a “coward.” Others said, “I want to see how you’re gonna sleep tonight” and “You’ll be looking for a new job soon.”
According to the consolidation proposal, in 2018, district administrators were informed Middletown’s schools would lose more than $5 million in state aid over seven years. There are 12 elementary schools and a total of 17 schools in the district.
In February, board members were advised the 2020-21 proposed budget shortfall was about $2.5 million after reductions and the elimination of some curricular, special education and facilities costs, according to the consolidation proposal.