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Schools Study Draws Residents' Scrutiny of Mayors

Mendham Borough Mayor Neil Henry and Chester Township Mayor Bill Cogger faced criticism over the disposition of the regional school district feasibility study.

Armed with whispered insults and sarcastic laughs in lieu of pitchforks and torches, a small group of people gathered Monday and Tuesday at council meetings in Mendham Borough and Chester Township, respectively, to press the mayors on the ongoing talks about the disposition of the regional schools.

For more than a year, the mayors of five municipalities whose high school students attend the West Morris Regional School District have been meeting to discuss the future of the district.

The result was a split among the towns on what options should be included in a feasibility study.

This week, Mendham Borough Mayor Neil Henry and Chester Township Mayor Bill Cogger were pressed about the issue.

While the next official date for the meeting of the West Morris Regional Education Advisory Committee isn’t until Oct. 30, the mayors of the communities did meet last week.

While working toward agreeing on specific changes in school structure in a potential feasibility study,

At that same meeting, Chester Borough Mayor Bob Davis said that town’s council needed more time to consider where it stood.

Those present at both meetings expressed to the mayors their desire to see their towns reverse their decision and support the options decided upon by Chester Borough and Mendham Township.

Mendham Borough resident Alan Bowen spoke Monday night at the Mendham Borough council meeting.

“I happen to have a son who is getting ready to move into the high school next year. I think there is a good opportunity to try to change it,” Bowen said. “I would certainly say the council should support the feasibility study, but we have to make choices that make sense for Mendham Borough. The option of the mega K-12 could exacerbate the problem we have today. If you can, support the view of Mendham Township and Chester Borough.”

Henry said that there was support in the study from the council, but he felt strongly that all of the communities needed to move forward together. Henry also said the study of the mega district was not something he feared.

“We as a governing body have checks and balances to make sure that doesn’t happen,” Henry said. “I hate to see this $10,000 we have for the feasibility study sitting there. But at this point I am doubtful we will come to a consensus.”

Borough resident Steve Moore asked for another solution.

“If the mayors can’t agree on what part of the feasibility study to fund, why not have Washington Township fund their part and we fund our part instead of subverting the process,” Moore said.

Henry said that was something that might happen.

“It is my understanding that is exactly what Washington Township has offered to do,” Henry said.

Indeed, as reported on Patch last Thursday, that option would have Washington Township pay its share for the study, but not fund the portion analyzing a specified high school district for the Chesters and Mendhams. On the other side, Mendham Township and Chester Borough would fund the study, excluding the portions pertaining to the mega K-12 analysis.

On Tuesday at the meeting of the Chester Township mayor and council, resident JoAnn Kruse addressed Cogger expressing concerns about a serious degradation in the quality of education in Mendham High School, and said she felt frustration at the process, which seemed to be stalling.

Cogger said he shared the frustrations at the process.

“I would go forward with this tomorrow, but I want all the towns on the same page,” Cogger said. “I don’t know why we can’t get Mendham Township on board. We poked, we prodded. I know in Chester Borough Bob Davis is on board, but his council isn’t.”

As to the quality of the education in the school slipping, Cogger disagreed.

“I spoke to the superintendent of the regional school and if you look at the HSPA scores, we’re second in the state in reading and writing I don’t think we have an education problem,” Cogger said. “I think we have a segment of people who have taken selective information and twisted it to bring rise to an issue which I am happy to address.”

Susan Sullivan asked Cogger about supporting the mega K-12 option.

“A combined school system seems to benefit Washington Township,” Sullivan said. “Which is why they are pushing it.”

Cogger disagreed with that characterization.

“They aren’t pushing. I’ve been sitting in the meetings and they aren’t pushing that. I would give Ken Short a lot of credit. He’s remained cool and is willing to examine everything. I don’t think anyone thinks a mega K-12 is the solution, but you need to include it so you can find the economies,” Cogger said. “I see no gain in being ignorant. I see no gain in not looking at every angle.”

Chester Township representative to the regional board Marcia Asdal addressed Cogger and reiterated it seemed as if Washington Township wanted the mega district study, but acknowledged that if the choice was studying it and letting the entire process derail, studying it was the better choice.

“I would focus on getting that study done and getting the information out to the taxpayers,” Asdal said.  

“I need your help. Talk to your friends in the borough,” Cogger said. “I think if there was four agreed I think Mendham Township would come along eventually.”

Cogger also took issue with the suggestion that Washington Township be excluded from the process.

"I don’t ignore business partners. Its unethical and inappropriate. You can’t turn your back on them after being in business with them for 58 years,” Cogger said. “No one wants this to go away more than I do. But it has to go away the right way.”

The next regional school meeting will begin at 7 p.m. at the Washington Township Municipal Building on Oct. 30.  

Consiglia October 17, 2012 at 11:59 PM
At the meeting last night Mayor Cogger said that the study costs would be the same whether the mega K-12 was included or not. So why debate over it? If you do not want to look at those results then don't. I think the councils and mayors need to listen to their citizens and move forward. It's a study they are not committing to a legal and binding change. As far as the quality of Mendham High School, having had two children go through the program, I think it is good. But I think the music department is under funded. We need more math teachers and to offer more languages. If there was a change in the structure of the school districts, could we implement changes quicker if our district was just Mendham-Chester? Will this study show how the quality of a school might change? The Mendhams with two K-8 districts have further to go then Chester. I would think all towns would press forward with the study as quickly as possible.
Anne October 18, 2012 at 07:44 PM
“I see no gain in being ignorant. I see no gain in not looking at every angle.” What a simple and level-headed statement. Kudos, Mr. Cogger.
Shanana October 18, 2012 at 08:33 PM
“I spoke to the superintendent of the regional school and if you look at the HSPA scores, we’re second in the state in reading and writing I don’t think we have an education problem,” This is a ridiculous statement...First of all the Superintendent made a big error. West Morris Regional is 2nd in the County not the State for reading and writing HSPA scores. However how sad is it that we base the excellence of our schools on a basic benchmark like the HSPA. Why not look at the SAT scores or ACT scores or AP/IB exam assessments? These are tests that truly demonstrate the excellence of a curriculum not the HSPA which is a test of minimum basic skills. Let's raise the bar not lower it. What kind of educational visionary is Mackey Pendergrast who wants to compare the West Morris Regional education to the HSPA? Where are we headed as a district? Nowhere near the excellence demonstrated in 2004. At that time we had Principals in both schools that were educational visionaries.
Pay your own way October 18, 2012 at 11:53 PM
The only way we have an educational problem is if mendham has to prop up long valley. If you want your children to have the advantage of mendham schools, pay the price of admission to live in mendham. Otherwise bugger off, the reality us Chester should be joined with long valley.
Really? October 19, 2012 at 09:13 PM
Thank you “Pay Your Way”, I’ve been waiting for this. It was only a matter of time before this sentiment that always lay just below the surface revealed itself. Anyone remember the name that Mendham had for the students from Chester (I'll leave it out here so Russ doesn't get upset)?. And it didn’t even take until we “dumped” Long Valley (as CBS wants) for the Mendhams to turn on Chester. Charlene, these are the people you want to go into business with? Instead of asking why are the Mayors doing the work of Washington Township we should really be asking why is CBS doing the work of Mendham Township. And something else to think about, if it wasn’t for the investment of Chester and Long Valley, Mendham wouldn’t have a high school.

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