Chester Borough voted 3-2 not to include the mega-K12 feasibility study option when they return to the next meeting of the mayor's scheduled for August 16 in Mendham Township.
The decision might be the straw that breaks regional study's back as if no unanimous decision is made in August on which options to study, the committee could effectively be dissolved.
For the second meeting in a row, Chester Board of Education member Kerri Wright and regional school mayor's group moderator Christine Gorski appeared before the mayor and council of Chester Borough (joined this time by Raymond Trevisan, board of education president) to explain the implications and options involved in a feasibility study. And for the second meeting in a row, the borough failed to add the mega K-12 option to the feasibiity study.
Washington Township, Mendham Borough, and Chester Township all previously agreed to move forward on three options:
- Super regional K-12 district, encompassing all five towns
- Two K-12 school districts–one for Washington Township, another for the Chesters and Mendhams
- K-12 district for Washington Township and a limited use 9-12 for the Mendhams and Chesters, keeping their K-8 districts intact.
Mendham Township, however, said it would not allocate funds for a study–each municipality has budgeted $10,000–if the super regional K-12 district was part of the options to be included. While Chester Borough would not agree to study the mega K-12 they did agree to find their portion of the study.
Councilwoman Jennifer Cooper-Napolitano didn't see the wisdom in studying something that wasn't unanimous.
"If you know that some of the towns don’t want one of the options, why would you study it," Cooper-Napolitano said.
For his part, Mayor Bob Davis said he saw no harm in studying the K-12 district it if it moved the process forward.
"The process is complicated but there are plenty of opportunities for us to veto or alter or design as the process goes along," Davis said.
The cost of the feasibility study itself was an issue with members of the council as both Janet Hoven and Cooper-Napolitano voiced concerns with spending the $10,000.
"Chester Borough, which is very little, is being asked to chip in $10,000 which is a disproportionate," Cooper-Napolitano said.
Davis saw the $10,000 as money well spent.
"Its small potatoes when you think about the fact that we sent 80 students to the high school and pay $17,759 per student," Davis said. "I think if we can move the ball forward we can discover a lot."
Councilman James Robshaw made a motion to add the mega K-12 and it was seconded by Matt Finney. It was voted down by Cooper-Napolitano, Hoven and Tim Iverson. Councilman Gary Marschuetz was conferenced in on the phone, but was not able to stay on long enough to vote.
After the vote, Davis said he felt the teamwork of the five towns was lost.
"The teamwork issue is dead. Without going forward with the study shuts all doors," Davis said.
Cooper-Napolitano disagreed with Davis.
"Let me address this whole cooperation here. People who don’t want a mega K12 are being criticized. This idea was brought forth by one of the five towns. If everyone isn’t including that, how isn’t that working together," Cooper-Napolitano said. "So I would think that if everyone can compromise on two, then you move forward with two."
Moderator of the mayor's meeting Christine Gorski explained that many towns were already making concessions.
"Washington Township is agreeing to study all the options that it doesn’t want. They are agreeing to study 3/4 of the things thet don’t want," Gorski said. "They are willing to study everything they don’t want in the spirit of cooperation."
After the vote, Hoven spoke of wanting to find a solution to make it work and Davis urged the council to reconsider.
"I think you’ve blown an opportunity guys and now you are having second thoughts. If you are, make a motion and then reverse it," Davis said.
No motion was made.
"Tonight's vote was a vote against the taxpayers in Chester," Bob Davis said. "And now I have done what I swore I wouldn't do. I wasted a year on this."
While there is a chance the study may go forward with three of towns, Davis said now Chester Borough has forfeited its right to a say in it. Despite the grim forecast, Davis did say the year was not truly a waste.
"Working with the other mayors, they are all really great guys," Davis said. "And I know I can pick up the phone and call them and they can call me and we can work together comfortably."
Perhaps phone calls of that nature will be in order, as the fractured mayor's group meets in what most likely will be their final meeting next Thursday.