Little Egg Harbor School District Superintendent Apparently Could Get Job at Pinelands, Too

But Shared Services Agreement Must be Approved by County Super
Apr 11, 2018


If county and state officials agree, it looks as if the next Pinelands Regional School District Superintendent will be Melissa McCooley. If that name sounds familiar, that’s because she’s already the superintendent for the Little Egg Harbor School District.

McCooley wouldn’t be leaving the Little Egg district. Instead she would be the chief administrator for both districts thanks to a shared services agreement.

The issue was discussed for some time at the April 9 Pinelands Regional Board of Education working session meeting, but only in generalities. McCooley’s name was never mentioned. Indeed, the discussion dealt with only “shared services,” as was written in the agenda, and never specifically mentioned a shared superintendent or the district with which services would be shared.

So, how can it be said the BOE wants McCooley?

Well, as already stated, Pinelands will need to win country and state approval for the shared services deal. But Ocean County’s interim executive county superintendent, Judith DeStefano-Anen, is a Little Egg Harbor resident, which means there is a potential conflict of interest when dealing with any Pinelands issues because the township is a constituent member of the district. Pinelands, therefore, is overseen by Burlington County Interim Executive County Superintendent Daryl J. Minus-Vincent.

When the board was asked if the Ocean County executive county superintendent would have to approve the other district involved in the shared services agreement, the audience was told DeStefano-Anen had a conflict of interest there as well. Remember, she lives in Little Egg Harbor Township, which could lead to the conclusion that the district in question must be Little Egg Harbor.

Because the plan still needs approval from above, no details at all were released.

Although many people attending the meeting rose to express support for the agreement or simply signed their names on a piece of paper to express their support ,they apparently could have no idea what they were supporting in its entirety.

Meanwhile, the board said it had unanimously voted for the agreement.

No member of the audience publicly opposed the plan at Monday’s meeting. However, one man did ask if the proposed superintendent had any secondary school experience. He said there was a vast difference between supervising an elementary district and a secondary district.

“One qualification for any candidate was secondary experience,” said board President Susan Ernst.

But Ernst made it clear “we do not have a candidate until the county approves.”

At the end of the public meeting, during the board forum segment, board Vice President Patricia Chambers launched into a spirited defense of the shared services agreement.

There are “quite a few” shared superintendents in New Jersey, she said, most of them in North Jersey.

“We will be a pioneer in South Jersey,” she said.

Cost savings, Chambers said, could be substantial over the years. She said one district in North Jersey had saved over $7 million since it went to shared services.

“I think it is a very good fiscal decision. It could save $800,000 (apparently over the course of the new superintendent’s contract).”

Chambers also said the agreement would have educational advantages. It would, for example, help with the transition of students from elementary school to junior high. It could lead to improved professional development and result in curriculum savings. Finally, she said it could lead to increased funding.

“It could open up new doors,” said Chambers.

One thing is certain: The Little Egg Harbor District’s prior decision to enter into an agreement for Pinelands students to attend classes at the Frog Pond Elementary School would definitely be helpful for Pinelands as the district attempts to house students while the high school is closed for the entirety of the 2018-19 school year. Stevenson said up to 14 classrooms would be available at Frog Pond.

Last week the Little Egg Harbor Township Planning Board approved the district’s plans to have a block of 10 TCUs – temporary classroom units – installed outside of the junior high school. It will be connected to the junior high building so that the TCUs can share electricity and alarm and intercom systems. The TCUs are designed for a capacity of 23 or 24 students.

If the Frog Pond classrooms have the same capacity, that would mean some 576 of the displaced Pinelands High School students could be accommodated.

Rick Mellerup

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