A yet-to-be funded feasibility study would analyze three different options to change the structure of the area’s schools if approved by five municipalities, the West Morris Educational Advisory Committee concluded Thursday night.
Mayors and school board representatives from Washington Township, the Chesters and Mendhams make up the committee, and decided on half of the original list of six options that could potentially be covered in a feasibility study paid for by the towns.
Those three options are:
- Consolidation of all five school districts into one super-regional district.
- Two separate K-12 school districts; one in Washington Township, and one serving the Chesters and Mendhams
- One K-12 school district for Washington Township, one 9-12 school for the Chesters and Mendhams, and keeping those towns individual K-8 districts intact.
The options that won’t be studied from the original list include the status quo, essentially keeping everything the same; the creation of magnet schools, and a hybrid model that would share curriculum and administration, but keep local control for boards to hire faculty and other duties allowed with their current guidelines.
“After speaking with a consultant about these options,” Vice Chairman Jim Harmon said, “it was established that the status quo would basically be built in as a baseline anyway, not really making it an option.”
While the meeting’s agenda included a motion to accept $10,000 from each municipality to pay for the study, the item was quickly tabled when officials said they wanted to discuss the options with their governing bodies.
“I’d like to talk to my committee about options we’ve agreed upon here,” said Mendham Township Mayor Sam Tolley. “I do recommend studying the funding issue outside the (feasibility) study as well.”
Washington Township Mayor Ken Short also said he wanted to go over the options with his committee before approving funds, and shared Tolley’s sentiments about the funding issue.
“We began this process because there was a perceived unfairness in the funding structure,” Short said to the committee. “But we haven’t addressed the funding yet. Whatever we decide needs to address that. We’re supposed to be trying to find a way to save taxpayers money, not just splitting up school districts.”
Mendham Borough Mayor Neil Henry, Chester Township Mayor Bill Cogger, and Chester Borough Mayor Bob Davis all said they were prepared to spend the funds.
Charlene Arrington, chairperson for and speaking on behalf of Citizens for Better Schools, asked the committee to approve a resolution of the three options agreed upon.
“We urge the committee to study those three options,” Arrington said. “But CBS does not support the idea of a mega K-12 district.”
When asked why the group would not support that option, Arrington said, “There are many reasons, but the primary one is the logical assumption that if we’re subsidizing West Morris Central now, we’d likely end up subsidizing the K-8 portion of the district as well.”
Each mayor will go back to its governing body and discuss the options agreed upon. All five municipalities are expected to come to the next meeting prepared to vote on funding the feasibility study.
Up to this point, all but Mendham Township had earmarked $10,000 in its municipal budget to put toward the feasibility study.
Short said he will not be attending the next meeting, and one of his fellow committeemen will take his place. He also said during the meeting he is in discussions with his lawyer about a potential conflict of interest on the matter.
Short owns bonds from the West Morris Regional School District amounting to no more than $100,000, he said. He is awaiting a response from counsel to clear up any potential conflicts of interests.
Tolley asked the committee if it would consider having the meetings taped and televised on Mendham TV going forward. The mayor said cost would be approximately $750 per meeting for the entire production. Split between the boards and municipalities, each group would have to pitch in about $70, he said.
“There’s one problem with that,” Short said. “Washington Township doesn’t get Mendham TV.”
The group discussed the possibility of having the tapings broadcast online, possibly on YouTube if it agreed on the tapings. Further discussion will be held at the next meeting.
Going forward, all meetings will be held on the third Thursday of each month. The next three meetings have been set for July 19, tentatively scheduled for Mendham Borough, Aug. 16, and Sept. 20.