Mendham Twp. Committee Has 2 Options for Schools
The Mendham Township Committee selected two options for the regional school district feasibility study to bring back to the June 7 conclave. Will not commit funds until more information is available.
After a protracted discussion during Tuesday's meeting that lasted more than two hours, the Mendham Township Committee went through the list of options that came out of the West Morris Regional High School Mayors and Representatives of the Board of Education meeting and whittled their list of acceptable options down to two.
For some members, begrudgingly.
“Whatever we decide, it must be an option that has the best chance of being passed. We can’t frame it as all or nothing. When framed like that, many times the option is nothing,” Strobel said.
The complete list included the following, as ordered numerically by Mendham Township Mayor Sam Tolley.
1. Creation of 1 K-12 School District for all five towns
2. Creation of 2 K-12 Districts — one for Washington Township and one for the Mendhams and
3. Creation of 1 K-12 District for Washington Township and a Limited Use 9-12 District for the
Mendhams and the Chesters. The K-8 schools in those towns would not change.
4. Status Quo: K-8 schools stay in place, WMMHS and WMCI-JS would continue as one district.
5. Creation of Magnet schools, either at the K-8 level and/or the High School 9-12
6. Hybrid Model: One Superintendent over all five towns, local school boards would remain in place and have local control over areas including quality of staff, curriculum and where their children attend school (needs further definition). The focus of this model is shared services, and optimization of resources while maintaining local schools.
All of the options included funding formula alternatives and the financial implications of that option.
The discussion started off quickly with committeeman Frank Cioppetini who emphasized his position that the K-8 school districts were among the top in the state and should not be dismantled or combined with anyone.
“I don’t think our system is broken and I hate to see that system disrupted,”Cioppetini said. “I think that the presentations we had from the state and Vito Gagliardi showed us that the socioeconomic conditions in the community leads to the success of the school. We care about our kids, we have involved parents that will drive what we do. I favor a limited use 9-12 because I believe the socioeconomic data will show if you continue to have the socioeconomic conditions vary it will hurt our kids.”
Rob Strobel took the position that while none of the options were perfect, the committee needed to realistically look at what could be passed.
“For the state to let a change like this pass there needs to be an educational benefit or operational efficiency. It can’t be just an end run around the funding formula,” Strobel said. “We need options.”
Strobel, Rick Merkt and Maribeth Thomas all discarded Magnet Schools and Hybrid districts. But Merkt in particular took exception with the status quo option.
“We currently have a subsidy situation and studying a status quo option is extending that. Why spend money on the study to keep things the way they are?” Merkt said. “The status quo option is not ok. Our flexibility in looking at it as a baseline or at it related to a funding formula change should not be misconstrued as acceptance of it as an option.”
Spending money on the study was something that Mendham Township had not committed to doing, and as of Tuesday’s meeting they still had not committed their $10,000. Thomas had suggested that Tolley approach the board of education on splitting the cost.
“As full partners I would have hoped that they would,” Tolley said. “But they did not offer and I chose not to make an issue out of it.”
The process, as outlined by the new regional committee, would have the options needing unanimous approval by the Mayors in order to move forward with a feasibility study. Each Mayor (municipality) would then agree to commit $10,000 for the study. All the other participating towns set aside money in their 2012 budgets for the study.
As the discussion wound down, Cioppetini wanted to make sure the committee would be able to see what options were chosen before voting on spending money on the study and that their level of representation be addressed.
“We only have one vote out of nine. We need to have proper representation for our children,” Cioppetini said. “We can’t give control to other towns. It has been proven that when you don’t have control your school will lack.”
When Tolley went through the list a final time, options two and three were chosen.
2. Creation of 2 K-12 Districts — one for Washington Township and one for the Mendhams and Chesters
3. Creation of 1 K-12 District for Washington Township and a Limited Use 9-12 District for the Mendhams and the Chesters. The K-8 schools in those towns would not change.
Strobel cautioned the committee that they may have left themselves little room to maneuver with those choices.
“If you go for broke, you may end up broke.” Strobel said. “I am going to take one more swing at this and then I will abide by the decision of the group. We’ve picked two options. I want to go on the record. One that the state won’t approve and one that the people won’t approve.”
Merkt did agree that none of the options were perfect and that the answer most likely would lie with a compromise with all of the parties involved.
For his part, Tolley put it more succinctly.
“We have to deal with reality,” Tolley said.