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Study to Break Up Regional Schools Comes to Mayors Thursday

Officials from Mendhams, Chesters will question two consulting firms bidding to create feasibility study on local schools.

Patch File Photo.
Patch File Photo.

A process once considered dead has been resurrected and will be taking a major step forward this week, as elected officials from the Mendhams and Chesters will come together and pursue the dissolving of the West Morris Regional High School district.

On Thursday night at the Mendham Township municipal building at 7 p.m., mayors from Chester Township, Chester Borough, Mendham Township and Mendham Borough will gather, along with an additional representative from each of their governing bodies, and hear two consulting firms speak on the scope of a feasibility study that would analyze two different ways to reconfigure local school districts.

The first option to be studied would create a mega-K12 district that would envelop Mendham Township, Mendham Borough, and Chester School districts’ K-8 grades with Mendham High School.

The second option would be to leave all K-8 districts as they are, but make Mendham High School its own school district.

Both options would split Mendham High School away from its sister school, West Morris Central, in the regional district.

Two firms that have come forward both specialize in school district reconfiguration. The first is Vito Gagliardi, Jr. of Porzio, Bromberg & Newman in Morristown. According to Gagliardi’s resume, he’s overseen the only three regional school district dissolutions in New Jersey state history. He’ll bring with him experts on education and demography, according to Mendham Borough Mayor Neil Henry, who was chosen to serve as chairman for the ad hoc committee.

The other firm, from New York state, is Center for Government Research, or CGR, which specializes in “strategic guidance and implementation assistance to public sector, educational and nonprofit clients,” according to its website.

No formal action is expected to be taken Thursday night, but the officials hope to have answers to outstanding questions resolved, Henry said. A follow-up, “offline” meeting will likely take place between the mayors after Thursday night’s session to further discuss which consultant to choose.

The total amount of money going into the project is $55,000, with three of the towns contributing $15,000, and Chester Township allotting $10,000. Originally the quad of municipalities agreed on $35,000, with Chester Borough kicking in $5,000, while each of the other three towns would contribute $10,000.

First of Many Steps

Of course, simply choosing a consultant to conduct the feasibility study is just the first step in a very long process, Henry said.

Once the study is finished and a recommendation on one of the two options is made, each mayor from his or her respective towns will need to receive approval from the governing body to take the next step.

Three of the four towns would need to approve moving forward, and in that case a set of public questions would be put on a ballot for voters to decide, Henry said.

The questions would be two-fold: First, voters would decide if they want the regional district dissolved. Second, residents would then need to decide which configuration they would like to see; a Mendham-Chester K-12 district, or the high school standing alone as its own district.

The caveat, and potential deal maker or breaker in the voting booth, is that a majority of the governing bodies in at least three of the four towns, majority of those school boards, and majority of those towns' voters would need to approve the dissolution to the regional high school district. While Washington Township would have no vote on the questions being put on a ballot, voters in that municipality would have the opportunity to approve or deny the questions once and if they were put on the ballot, Henry said. 

While moving forward with a fresh perspective, the process is not a new one and has been analyzed over the years. The most recent iteration began in June 2011 when members of the region’s school boards and governing bodies came together for a first-ever summit to discuss options of consolidation and dissolution.

Ten months later, a presentation by the New Jersey Department of Education offered analysis and answers to many outstanding questions regarding the regional school district and its configuration and spending formula. From there, an ad hoc mayors committee was formed by the five towns. After a series of closed door meetings, the group could not come to terms on the best way to address the configuration and walked away from the process.

In the time since, mayors from the Chesters and Mendhams have congregated to work on commissioning a feasibility study to analyze the two options currently on the table.

Thursday night’s meeting is open to the public and residents from all towns are encouraged to attend. 

Editor's note: This article has been amended multiple times. To clarify, Washington Township would not vote on the restructuring questions being put on a ballot for public vote. It would, however, be able to vote on such a measure if and when it was put to a vote for the entire district.

ChangeInChester February 18, 2014 at 04:47 PM
This piece is misleading. There is no "mega k-12" option on the table. The only two options to be studied are (1) a stand alone Mendham/Chester high school with all Mendham and Chester K-8s remaining the same and (2) a Mendham/Chester k-12. Also, a majority of the voters in each of the 5 towns (including WT) is NOT required to dissolve the WMRHSD. Perhaps Jason will revise with the accurate information.
Anne Clark February 18, 2014 at 06:35 PM
Yes - unfortunately the Mayors will not allow the chosen consultants to consider a K-12 for all 5 towns - and perhaps provide our taxpayers with the lowest cost option. . West Windsor - Plainsboro certainly has not seen negative impacts from being a "mega" district - what the CBS supporters are using as a derogatory term. . WWP total students = 9921 WMRHSD = 2868 WT = 2367 CT/CB = 1265 MB = 654 MT = 831 5 town total = 7985 WWP is about 25% larger than all our districts combined. . What do they spend? Total Budgetary Comparative Per Pupil Cost WWP = $13,701 K-12 WMRHSD = $14,561 9-12 CT/CB = $14,783 K-8 WT = $14,751 K-8 MB = $13,661 K-8 MT = $16,097 K-8 . So WWP is spending less. . How are their academic results compared to ours? WWP-N HS SAT CR/M/W 50th% 610/660/610 WWP-S HS SAT CR/M/W 50th% 620/660/620 WMM HS SAT CR/M/W 50th% 570/590/570 WMC HS SAT CR/M/W 50th% 540/570/540 . The WWP HS's don't seem to suffer academically from being part of a "mega" district. . How about their 8th grade NJ ASK results? WWP Community MS 50th% ELA/M 242/272 WWP Grover MS 50th% ELA/M 239/266 WT LV MS 50th% ELA/M 228/229 CT/CB MS 50th% ELA/M 239/260 MB MV MS 50th% ELA/M 240/255 MT MS 50th% ELA/M 239/279 . OK - so their middle schools do OK too. . So why is it that we taxpayers will not be provided information on the option of creating a "super" district for all 5 of our towns? Seems to me we need to provide the taxpayers of our communities with all the information needed to vote intelligently.
Jason Koestenblatt (Editor) February 18, 2014 at 07:36 PM
Thanks for the comments, Change and Anne. Just to clear up any confusion, nowhere does the article state Washington Township is included in the "mega" K12 option. I, the author, used the term "mega" in this instance because consolidating four individual districts into one, joining four towns and more than 3,000 students in one fell swoop certainly – in my opinion – constitutes the term "mega." As for the amount of voters needed to go forward with such a change, we're checking back on that, and thanks for bringing it up.
History WT February 18, 2014 at 11:07 PM
WT votes no. Next?
Jason Koestenblatt (Editor) February 19, 2014 at 08:20 AM
Thanks again for the comments. We checked back with Mayor Henry on the voting matter, who clarified that Washington Township would not get a vote in the matter of dissolving the regional school district. We've also added an editor's note at the end of the article. Thanks again!
Jackie Alfieri February 19, 2014 at 08:57 AM
Why doesn't WT get a vote? I thought in all other articles I've read that all 5 would vote on a change in structure for the HS?
Angelo February 19, 2014 at 09:58 AM
How is it possible that Washington Twp residents can't vote in a proposed dissolution of the regional school district? Doesn't make sense. Jason, how about checking with Mayor Short to see what he says.
Domino February 19, 2014 at 10:20 AM
Jason: Please review N.J.S.A. 18A:13-59 regarding the voting procedures for dissolution of the regional district. It is absolutely incredible that these 4 municipalities are willing to spend 15K of taxpayer money without their governing bodies fully understanding what the procedures are, how they work and who gets to vote. And when did the amount become 15K per and not 10K? Sounds like they hoodwinked the taxpayers on that one.
Domino February 19, 2014 at 10:36 AM
The answer is YES, Washington Township voters do vote on a motion to dissolve the regional district. In order to pass, it requires a majority of the five towns and a majority of the overall vote.
Angelo February 19, 2014 at 11:04 AM
@Domino: not a lawyer here....can you clarify if there is a difference between the voting depending upon if it's a "withdrawal" vs. a "dissolution". I gathered this is reference in NJSA 18A:13-57 but I didn't find the actual text.
Domino February 19, 2014 at 04:18 PM
Jason: Please correct your article. WT taxpayers DO vote on this issue. You are doing your readers a major dis-service by publishing incorrect information on such a topic of great importance to these communities. Just because Neil Henry has allowed himself to be duped by CBS doesn't mean you have to be. Very poor job of reporting by the Patch.
Jason Koestenblatt (Editor) February 19, 2014 at 04:22 PM
Thanks for the comment, Domino. As mentioned earlier, we're working on getting this issue resolved as quickly as possible. But I won't be amending the article until I have those answers and they are clear. Thanks again.
Domino February 19, 2014 at 04:39 PM
Jason: It's not complicated. Go to the N.J.S.A. code, which you can find online, and search section N.J.S.A. 18A:13-59. Or, you call Mike Kaelber at the New Jersey School Boards Association (he did a presentation on this issue a couple of years ago) toll free at 888-886-5722, x5277. I'm sure he would be happy to answer any of your questions (Perhaps Neil Henry should call also; he obviously needs to get up to speed before Thursday).
Claire February 19, 2014 at 06:16 PM
I agree there is AGAIN a lot of misinformation. Its sad a Mayor does not know the laws and has relied on some people who have pushed for this. Domino: I too am having trouble finding an 'official' site that references the voting rules. Can you provide an actual link? I agree with you that WT will have a vote from what I have read in my searches but would like to have a .gov site to quote before I comment. from what I read so far it will boil down to how many people care enough to get out and vote! ("majority of voters"). Residents need to get real facts!
Domino February 19, 2014 at 07:12 PM
Jason: I hope you update your readers with a clarification. http://law.onecle.com/new-jersey/18a-education/13-59.html
Angelo February 19, 2014 at 07:17 PM
Here is a New Jersey School Boards Associatoion document (from 2006)with ref to also NJSA 18A:13-59 (and 57): http://www.mendhamtownship.org/documents/west%20morris%20regional%20school%20district/dissoultion%20oct%2012%202006.pdf
Angelo February 19, 2014 at 07:24 PM
add: see page 20.
Jason Koestenblatt (Editor) February 19, 2014 at 07:59 PM
Thank you for all the comments everyone, and for your patience. My apologies for all the confusion. We've amended the article - for the final time - with clarification in an editor's note at the bottom of the story. Thanks!
Domino February 19, 2014 at 08:39 PM
Jason: With all due respect, it sounds like you are being spoon fed information from Jamie Button and his colleagues at CBS. If you take a look at the statutes under section 18A:13-55-59, they define very specific procedural guidelines for the dissolution process, including the manner in which it has to proceed, the specific information that has to be provided and the role of the County Superintendent. Special ballot questions provided for the convenience of determining how the district moves forward that excludes a portion of the regional taxpayers are not provided for and are more than likely not even legal. And who is going to pay the tens of thousands of dollars for holding such a special ballot question? Please Jason, do not continue to publish articles such as this until you have a firm grasp of the facts. The Patch is beginning to mimic the Observer-Tribune.
History WT February 19, 2014 at 10:42 PM
Jason, good job getting this straight. Unfortunately, there are some parties in this who think playing a fife and marching around means there is a chance in hell it could happen. This seems like maybe a Full Employment Act for a lawyer for two. Say, anyone ever see our raker du muck Charlene's full bio? The word Porzio in there?
La Quin February 20, 2014 at 09:29 AM
@anne clark.. we have gone against them in model un and as a 'teacher' i got to spend time with their teachers (we homeschooled) -- best part of mega district if class offerings, options, special programs for gifted and TONS of other things smaller districts don't offer. they LOVE the mega-district. THAT SAID... it won't work here ... the reason it works there is you don't have one side hating on the other, all schools are equal and have the same rules (another words if APs are offered on a per student basis at mendham they would also have to be offered as central) .. and no one (overtly) thinks of it as the 'smart' haves, and the 'dumb' have nots. -- it's not demographics people money does not make your kids smart! mendham's disdain for LV is our problem.. and the only reason i'm for the break-up ... i chose not to use either school, and homeschool (but I made that choice early on before high school) I liked that we could pick her classes and meet her needs (it worked for us) she loved having more choices then either school offered... we did APs rather then IB and she got into every top 30 school she applied to ... including the top 5 in the nation .. so IB is not the be all end all (which is my point... IBs do not impress colleges, breadth of knowledge does) i hope we break up and LV kills the IB program and opens up to APs and offers a bunch... even 'self study' options and individual tests! (those 45 college credits were nice to have going into freshman year!)

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