Local School Districts Working Together as Elementary District Regionalization Slow to Materialize

Jan 23, 2019

In the near 12 months since the New Jersey School Boards Association issued its report on elementary district regionalization not much has changed. It’s still just an idea being batted around, again, by state officials as a way to reduce the tax burden on residents of the Garden State.

The state ranks ninth on a list of all 50 states with the heaviest tax burden in the nation, according to a 2018 WalletHub study. Six of the top 10 states are on the East Coast. New York, Maine, Vermont, Connecticut and Rhode Island rank higher than the Garden State. New Jersey comes in at No. 11 on a recent WalletHub study of the most educated states in the nation.

“In schools, high-quality teaching, well-prepared teachers, strong school leadership, significant financial resources, culturally relevant experience, strong commitments to parent engagement and many other factors matter,” Louie F. Rodriguez, an associate professor and associate dean of undergraduate education and graduate school of education at the University of California Riverside, said in a statement accompanying the Jan. 21 release of most educated states. “The important thing to remember is that school quality is largely a function of its social context. If the system invests in education, its positive effects will likely be realized with the school context, and vice versa.”

Locally, Ship Bottom Mayor William Huelsenbeck drove this point home at last week’s LBI Consolidated Board of Education meeting, saying “People will come for (good) schools. It’s happened in other areas (across the state). It can happen here.”

Whether it will happen before state officials act on the recommendation to consolidate all kindergarten through sixth grade districts remains to be seen.

“We can’t worry about regionalizing,” William Fenimore, LBI school board president, said. “I see the value of the small setting and like what we have here.”

Still, there are some advantages, acknowledged Janet Bamford, school board association spokeswoman. Programming is one of them, she said.

“When you’re dealing with children and money, people tend to take things very seriously,” she said, noting the association is firm in its belief if the state is going to move ahead with merging school districts the final decision should be made at the local level.

If the state agrees with the recommendation to merge elementary districts, Beach Haven, Long Beach Island Consolidated, Stafford Township and Waretown will be impacted. All of those feed into the Southern Regional School District.

Just last week, Colette Southwick, a member of the LBI Consolidated school board, suggested the district reach out to Beach Haven about “joining us.” It’s unclear whether Southwick’s suggestion was to begin discussions on bringing the two LBI districts together ahead of a decision by the state. Currently, Barnegat Light, Harvey Cedars, Long Beach Township, Ship Bottom and Surf City feed into the consolidated school district. Beach Haven educates its own students at the elementary school there.

In the meantime, Richard Starodub, interim superintendent for Beach Haven, has reached out to Southern Regional about using its special services director to review the elementary district’s special education program as it prepares for an upcoming New Jersey Quality Single Accountability Continuum (NJQSAC) review. The NJQSAC is the state education department’s monitoring and self-evaluation system for public school districts. The system focuses on monitoring and evaluating school districts in five key components that, based on research, have been identified to be key factors in effective school districts: instruction and program, fiscal, governance, operations, and personnel, according to the state Department of Education.

“This request was necessitated by an upcoming Beach Haven learning disabilities teacher consultant (LDTC) retirement that may challenge Beach Haven’s readiness for the QSAC review,” Craig Henry, Southern Regional superintendent of schools, said. “This endeavor is not as a shared-service agreement but rather an articulation and collaboration which we frequently do with the elementary districts who send students to Southern.”

The review will entail Southern’s special services director developing a child study team needs assessment for personnel and program for Beach Haven, Henry said.

“Going forward, the needs assessment could lead to a shared-service agreement, but we are not there yet,” he said, noting the benefits and cost of a shared-service agreement depends largely on the circumstances of the two agencies who enter into an agreement and vary greatly depending on said circumstances.

— Gina G. Scala

ggscala@thesandpaper.net

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