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Schools Study Possible, But Not Now, Mayors Say

Town leaders continue to work together on various other shared interests.

Maybe it was naivete, maybe it was overconfidence.

Either way, mayors from the five towns that make up the West Morris Regional High School district were excited about making a historical change in the way education–and its funding–operated.

That was nearly two years ago, and dozens of meetings–both open and behind closed doors–led the leaders to realize why it had never been done, and why, once again, would not be changed.

In June 2011, the first education summit was held at Mendham High School. The event included elected officials from mayors to board of education members that would come up with the groundwork to make a change in the district’s structure.

“When we had that summit, there was a binder with reports in it about all the times this was brought up and how it didn’t work,” said Mendham Borough Mayor Neil Henry at a meeting of the mayors Thursday night in Chester. “I looked at that binder, and I thought of the leaders we had in place at the time and thought, nope, we’ll get something done.”

In the past year, Mayors Ken Short, of Washington Township, Bob Davis, of Chester, Bill Cogger, of Chester Township, Henry, and former Mendham Township Mayor Sam Tolley met numerous times to work on a potential feasibility study that would analyze the structure of the area’s schools.

Talks fizzled when .

“Democracy is the best form of government,” Cogger said. “But it doesn’t always turn out the way you want. I think (a change) will happen. It’ll take time, but it’ll happen.”

It was that democracy that proved lackluster throughout the process, according to Christine Meyers-Gorski, who chaired the group of mayors during their meetings.

“Democracy demands participation, and there was a severe lack of this,” Meyers-Gorski said. “These mayors worked incredibly hard–they didn’t stall anything.

As each town begins formulating its 2013 municipal budget, the time to put aside funds for a feasibility study, if explored, is now. Both Cogger and Short said there would be no funding for a study available in their budgets this year, and Henry said his town would likely follow suit.

“If we couldn’t agree on the options to study, how were we going to move forward with the other decisions?” Henry said. “We wouldn’t be able to agree on a consulting firm or anything else.”

At the local level, talks about restructuring schools in Washington Township, the Chesters and Mendhams has ceased, but the mayors plan to continue working together on a variety of other issues that could potentially benefit each individual town.

The group’s next meeting is scheduled for Thursday, Feb. 28 at 7:30 p.m. at the Mendham Township municipal building.

Not Domino February 01, 2013 at 08:53 AM
Let's think outside the box: How about merging the five towns and boroughs into one single entity? Then everything that is duplicated across the group can get merged as well. What kind of savings would that yield?
Joseph Keyes February 02, 2013 at 02:04 AM
Not Domino: At the risk of seeming uninformed to you, how would you get passed the ingrained perception that one residential segment (the 1%) would is subsidizing the rest? I support many of Gina Genovese’s Courage to Connect initiatives re: municipal services, but school boards essentially represent their own government. How would you accomplish this?
Not Domino February 02, 2013 at 05:35 PM
I don't quite understand your question, can you restate it? It seems like you are saying "Wouldn't the people with the highest property taxes object to merging because now their taxes would be used for services that are dispersed over a larger area, and thus including a larger percentage of people who pay substantially less taxes?" If that is what you are asking, I would answer that my gut instinct is that they would still come out ahead, but I haven't done the math to prove it, and it's probably a worthwhile exercise to try and do so. Here is the math: Today, each of the 5 municipalities has its own small pool of taxpayers, and its own small budget. If you combined the 5 municipalities into one, kept everyone's taxes at the same dollar cost by making one mil rate for everyone, but adjusting everyone's assessed value as necessary to preserve their current dollar cost, and put all the tax revenue into a single account, you'd have a much bigger pile of money (obviously.) If at the same time you combined all of the administrative and support services of the 5 former municipalities in order to remove redundancy (one police dept, one town hall, one court, one tax collector, one building & zoning dept, one water & sewer dept, one dept of public works, etc., I would think that there would be significant savings, meaning there would be money left over. Are all of the dollar figures needed for this calculation available? I'd be happy to do the math if I had all the figures.

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