West Morris Regional School Board Candidates: Fair Funding in District a Necessity

Chester, Mendham representatives weigh in on issues.

Long Valley Patch asked board of education candidates up for election on the April 27 ballot questions regarding ongoing issues in the school districts they serve. Below you'll find the questions and answer provided by candidates. For more information about the election, go here.

Long Valley Patch: Simply put, what kind of funding formula (current or otherwise) do you feel would work best for the West Morris Regional High School District, and why?

The West Morris Regional High School District was formed in 1958 by agreement of the participating towns. All parties agreed that each town would pay the same amount per student sent to the two high schools. The district was thus funded on a per pupil basis until 1979 when the state legislature incorrectly responded to the NJ Supreme Court “Abbott” decision by changing the law to require school funding based on real estate values. Inadequately attempting to correct its error in 1994, the state legislature reversed the law to allow regional districts to use per pupil funding formulas again, provided all participating towns agreed.

The original WMRHSD funding formula that served all five towns well for 21 years was based on one average cost per student times the number of students sent from each sending town. The logic was obvious since the number of students attending school is the primary cost-driver in the budget. Each town paid the same amount per student and the only variable was the number of students attending.

The State’s 1979 decision, however, resulted in grossly disproportionate costs per student from each town. Consequently, Mendham/Chester residents today pay $19,277 per student attending the school district while Washington Township pays only $10,483 per student.

Beginning January 25, 2011, each of the four Mendham and Chester municipal councils, representing 54% of West Morris Regional High School District voters, unanimously passed resolutions requesting the school board to conduct a referendum asking voters whether the district’s tax allocation between the five towns should be changed to one based on the number of students sent by each town. In opposition, however, the Washington Township Committee instead asked the district not to conduct such a referendum. The school board then complied with Washington Township’s request and refused to give voters a chance to be heard April 27, 2011 on the question.

Like our district’s founders, I believe the cost to send a child to school should be the same for every child in the district regardless of his or her address.

I support fairness in school funding.  The referendum to move to a per pupil cost basis has already received the support of four towns.  I believe the BOE should take a leadership position in finding a solution to this imbalance and I look forward to working on behalf of the Chester taxpayers.

Long Valley Patch: West Morris Central and Mendham High Schools are high-performing institutions, both academically and athletically. How do you feel the district can improve its curriculum to better educate its students and best prepare them for higher education?

JB: Mendham High School is not “high-performing” relative to its peers. It is below average and in decline.

In 2002, the year my eldest son graduated, Mendham High School was ranked 4th in New Jersey among all public high schools. In 2004, the year my second son graduated, MHS dropped to 20th in New Jersey. In 2006, the year my eldest daughter graduated, MHS dropped again, to 29th in the state. And in 2008, the year my second daughter graduated, MHS dropped further to 38th in the state. For my two youngest sons, the trend is disconcerting. In 2010, MHS was ranked 26th in New Jersey. We can do better.

On Scholastic Aptitude Tests, Mendham High School students score 10th out of the 13 New Jersey high schools located in “J” communities, the state’s socioeconomic designation for the Mendhams and Chesters. MHS students score below nearby

Bernardsville, Chatham, Mountain Lakes and Millburn high schools. One factor contributing to our declining rank since 2002, the median verbal SAT scores of MHS students have dropped steadily from 590 to 560. We can do better.

The district can improve its curriculum to best prepare students for college by increasing its emphasis on writing. The ability to organize and communicate one’s ideas well is a rare and valued skill in the marketplace. Our curriculum should require our students to develop and practice their writing skills constantly. Our curriculum should also eliminate required classes students don’t need—such as physical education for interscholastic athletes—to give them more time for studying and sleeping during their sports seasons!

MA: Our schools' administrators and boards have done an excellent job formulating a diverse and challenging curriculum, despite having to deal with mandates from Trenton that may not best serve our schools.  Our staff has then continued this vision through professional execution.

Monitoring and managing this process is an ongoing responsibility of the Board and one which I am eager to take on and assure the taxpayers that they are receiving good value for their investment.


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