More than two years ago the State legislature enacted a law designed to encourage local school districts to merge, regionalize, consolidate and/or share services. While I agree with the concept, this piece of legislation represents everything that is wrong with our State government.
First, the law created a new level of bureaucracy in an already enormous Department of Education.
Second, it authorized the expenditure of millions of tax dollars in salaries, surveys, studies and other expenses, all in furtherance of an unattainable goal.
Third, the law is vague as to its specific goal, a time table and the consequences of non-compliance.
Finally, this Act and its veiled threat of forced consolidation are divisive and, most of all, smacks of Big Brother.
While denouncing this legislation, I applaud the effort to shine some light on the most fertile ground for tax savings in all single K-8 school districts across New Jersey. Although I could never entertain the notion of forced consolidation, I appreciate the work done thus far by the Monmouth County Superintendent of Schools Carol Morris in identifying natural clusters of potential partners in her effort to promote efficiency in the administration of our Monmouth County schools. However, I am calling for the immediate suspension of any further expenditure of funds in pursuit of the State’s apparent effort to force regionalization and I am hereby proposing an alternative to the current process. Although my plan will be specifically directed toward the southern Monmouth coastal region which includes my hometown of Brielle, I believe the principles of my plan are equally applicable to all school districts involved in the current regionalization effort.
I understand the concerns of the residents of our communities. Some of the concerns are well founded; others are the result of confusion, misunderstanding, hysteria and even direct misrepresentation. Regardless, for purposes of this discussion, my plan is directed to the residents of Avon, Belmar, Spring Lake Heights, Spring Lake, Sea Girt, Manasquan and Brielle, a natural grouping of homogenous towns, six of which operate one K-8 elementary school and send their children to Manasquan High School on a tuition paying basis. (Manasquan has one K-8 school and a high school.)
My plan does NOT include the formal regionalization, merger or consolidation of these individual school districts. The plan does NOT include the pooling of grades or the assignment and transportation of students out of the districts in which they reside. My plan preserves the autonomy of the individual Boards of Education, their individual budgets, the identity of each individual school and its place in the heart of each community.
Most importantly, my plan would NOT negatively impact the education of our children.
The purpose of my plan is to effectuate significant savings through a sharing of services throughout this cluster of schools. These seven towns currently employ seven superintendents, seven business administrators, seven attorneys, seven auditors, seven curriculum departments, etc. and all currently bear the burden of special education costs on an individual basis.
My plan also contemplates the establishment of shared services with each school’s respective municipal government involving such things as library services, facilities, engineering and property maintenance.
I am specifically proposing that Mrs. Morris invite a three person committee from each community within the cluster of districts to a meeting at a central site. The three person envoy would include a member of the governing body, a member of the Board of Education and a resident not affiliated with either entity. I am absolutely convinced that a committee of this nature could successfully develop an array of shared services between all or any combination of these seven towns and I am further convinced that once a general philosophy, or “mind set” can be achieved, there are undoubtedly many other areas of duplication within this cluster of schools which can be addressed and result in further savings to everyone involved. There would be no “losers.” If a particular plan does not include tax savings for everyone involved, it would never become a reality. I believe the Department of Education could provide further incentive for this proposal by utilizing whatever funds would have been spent on surveys, studies, etc. as additional State Aid for those school districts which can demonstrate a good faith effort at sharing services.
The work of this committee will be demanding and will require dedication to the concept of sharing services. I am certainly sensitive to the reality of this proposal as it may affect certain individuals. There does not need to be any time table on the total implementation of any program such that all reasonable economic expectations of everyone involved can be met. I am further convinced that a cooperative venture of this sort also carries the potential for the collective improvement of the educational programs and services available to the children of all districts.
It is my belief that we, as individual municipalities, have the ability to better control our escalating property taxes and we do not need Trenton to tell us how to do it, or worse yet, to threaten us with forced consolidation.
Rick Bolger, Candidate
NJ State Assembly District 11