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Towns Can't Agree, Schools Study in Limbo

Mendham Township won't study specific option, Chester Borough not ready to decide.

Despite five months of progress after a plea for five mayors in western Morris County towns to play ball and “be a team,” a discussion to alter the structure of the area’s schools may have may have reached its end game.

Mayors and school board members from Washington Township, the Chesters and Mendhams convened in Mendham Borough for the third West Morris Education Advisory Committee to check the pulse of each town and see what it wanted to analyze in a potential feasibility study.

After a short discussion, Washington Township, Mendham Borough, and Chester Township all agreed it would like to move forward with the three options presented at the group’s last meeting.

Those three options include:

  • Super regional K-12 district, encompassing all five towns
  • Two K-12 school districts–one for Washington Township, another for the Chesters and Mendhams
  • K-12 district for Washington Township and a limited use 9-12 for the Mendhams and Chesters, keeping their K-8 districts intact.

Mendham Township, however, said it would not allocate funds for a study–each municipality has budgeted $10,000–if the super regional K-12 district was part of the options to be included.

“The views of my committee, not necessarily that of my own,” said Mendham Township Committeeman Rob Strobel, standing in for Mayor Sam Tolley, “resulted in a vote to exclude the K-12 option in a feasibility study.”

Mendham Township committeewoman Mary Beth Thomas added to Strobel’s thoughts, saying, “Our residents spoke loud and clear (not to study the super regional option). The township committee is not willing to change that.”

Mendham Township wasn’t the only municipality to buck the majority, however.

Mayor Bob Davis of Chester Borough said his council was not ready to decide on a set of options at the time of the meeting, and wanted to further analyze the three choices.

In a previous meeting, Chester Borough’s council originally said–like Mendham Township–it was not willing to study the super regional option. But on Tuesday, the council heard from Chester Board of Education representative and attorney Kerri Wright, who explained the process and ramifications of studying any and all of the three options.

“Originally Chester Borough voted to fund a study absent the regional K-12 option,” Davis said. “The general drift is that Washington Township would have to raise their taxes with (the two othe) options, yet they’re at the table. And why would they do that? Because they’re good partners.

“So where is Chester Borough?” Davis continued. “I believe they’ll go forward with all three options, but I don’t have the authority tonight to move forward. We are inconclusive at this point.”

Lengthy Process or Stalling Tactics?

Mendham Township representative to the West Morris Regional School Board, James Button, addressed the committee as a resident with a prepared statement, and said supporting the regional K-12 option in a study would be maintaining the status quo.

“A vote for including a mega K-12 district alternative in the study is a vote for the status quo,” Button’s statement read. “Let’s stop stalling and get on with studying the only two realistically achievable alternatives to the status quo, either a K-12 or a 9-12 Mendham-Chester school district.”

Mendham Borough Mayor Neil Henry took exception to Button’s statement, and quickly rebuffed the idea that anyone, including himself, was stalling.

“I take great exception to the ‘idea’ of stalling,” Henry said, visibly agitated by the statement. “I’m all about getting to the bottom of this. Let’s not stall–let’s move forward with the study. This issue goes back to the 1960s. When was the last time five communities came together and allocated funds to do this?”

Washington Township Vice Mayor Bill Roehrich, standing in for Mayor Ken Short, echoed Henry’s sentiments on stalling.

“The object is to move forward,” Roehrich said. “I think saying we’re stalling is disingenuous. We’re just trying to gather the information and go forward.”

What’s Next?

While it doesn’t seem Mendham Township is willing to change its position, an official vote by the five municipalities won’t take place until the next committee meeting on Aug. 16.

At that same meeting, Chester Borough is expected to make its stance official as well.

If there is no unanimous decision made in August on which options to study, the committee would effectively be dissolved.

Or not.

The group does have the ability to move forward with four, or even three of the municipalities if it desired.

Committee Vice Chairman Jim Harmon, who has discussed some of the process with CGR, a firm that conducts feasibility studies, said the parameters of a study are still wide open, and would allow for any number of contributors.

But none of that will matter until the group convenes again in August to either move forward as one team, or take a different path as individual players.

A location has not yet been set for the August meeting. 

Walter White July 20, 2012 at 03:11 PM
http://www.facebook.com/pages/Neil-Henry-Does-Not-Care-About-His-Constituents/261669153949040?ref=hl
cv July 20, 2012 at 03:15 PM
I said it was my OPINION not proven fact.
1819 July 20, 2012 at 04:37 PM
Apropos of nothing, there are too many Washington Townships in New Jersey. We should change our name to "West Mendham Township". Or "Chendham Elite Township".Or "Bucolic Mendham Chester Without The Traffic Township". Let's hear from the realtors?
The Stig July 20, 2012 at 06:05 PM
If you live in Mendham Twsp, your greatest fear is that a mega district would show a net savings over the current multi-district model, but it would also raise your taxes (but drop WT's)! At that point you could have the state threatening to withhold the little aid you get because you refuse to support a plan that would "save" taxpayer $$. At that point your choices are 1.) Merge and pay more, or 2.) Don't merge, but pay more anyway to make up for the loss of state aid. It would be Lose-Lose, except for the fact that you also paid for the study, so it's now Lose-Lose-Lose!
Domino July 20, 2012 at 06:46 PM
After looking at the childish and juvenille facebook site mentioned above, it looks like Jamie Button and the Arrington Nation are up to their old tricks again. These are the same types of tactics that they used to run Superintendent DiBatista out of the district and similar to the smear campaigns waged upon BOE members Schram and Johnston when they mounted their feeble recall efforts. Anyone who claims to be a member of CBS should be ashamed to look at themselves in the mirror. And any of the remaining mayors who fail to denounce these actions should remove himself from office.
Angelo July 20, 2012 at 06:52 PM
As an aside, Washington Township (Morris) did consider changing its name many years ago (about 15?). They decided against it because it was the FIRST Washington Township in NJ it didn't feel it should be the one to change.
kittykitty July 20, 2012 at 07:17 PM
Domino, you are 100% correct. I have already posted several thoughts on their disgusting facebook page. Sometimes I wonder if I'm still living in the USA. Jamie Button, Charlene Arrington and all their followers at last night's meeting were asking their questions in a way so as to have "fodder" for their pathetic arguments about the mega district. I was there. Even when it was explained many times by various people on the panel why they are including the mega, they still didn't get it. And now they are framing their arguments to get opposition to Neil Henry, one of the most decent people I know. Have they ever considered that perhaps they are wrong? Last year, they blasted everyone for not pursuing a feasility; now they are blasting everyone FOR pursuing one. I just don't get it. Are they afraid of mixing with people from Washington Township? Yes, sadly, I think so. How pathetic can a group of people be...
cv July 20, 2012 at 09:02 PM
like
cv July 20, 2012 at 09:02 PM
like
been there July 21, 2012 at 04:17 PM
I dont live in any of the 5 towns that send to the WM Regional District, but from an outsider.... why would any of the Chesters or Mendhams want to regionalize their k-8 with Washington Twp when these 4 other towns are already being taxed higher than Washington Twp. I believe in regionalizing services in NJ, but only if their is a savings and no loss in services. In this matter, Washington Twp is balking about not being able to save more money while the other 4 towns see an increase. Make the funding equal across the board .... then wash Twp would be paying the same( which means a lot more) and see their residents screaming about it not being fair...
cv July 21, 2012 at 04:36 PM
@ been there iIf you know how to READ you would see this was one of the options being discussed. The mayors want to explore every possible scenario. Most people I have spoke to in my town of WT have no desire to share a school district with our Chester and Mendham neighboors.
Claire July 21, 2012 at 04:54 PM
been there: Your info is wrong. WT has the highest tax rate out of the 5 towns. Its just that Mendham/Chester have some very large estates which pay very high taxes ($40,000/yr) so collectively, they pay more taxes as a town. Its like, if you make a $500,000 per year, your going to may more income tax than someone making $100,000. Seems most folks in Mendham and Chester are happy to take advantage of their neighbors in the big houses.
The Stig July 22, 2012 at 04:01 AM
You are joking about the "all options would cost WT more" part. Any mega-district would see the Mendhams paying a big piece of LV's kid's K-8 costs in addition to the current HS.
Maria July 22, 2012 at 08:14 PM
@Stig - I'm trying to understand your argument. So what you feel they want is for 4 districts (without Washington Twp.) to merge in some manner, still get state aid, but have lower taxes? Doesn't Washington Twp have the bulk of the students? Wouldn't the cost per student still go up since less students merging mean less state aid?, Isn't there also a savings in not duplicating administrative/board functions, buildings, etc? I am left thinking there is more than money involved, it is a class issue and I am now leaning toward agreeing with cv...which makes me even sadder. Don't you WANT students to come from different backgrounds? I love the fact that there are farms in Washington Twp., older charming neighborhoods, private wooded areas, newer neighborhoods, and, yes, also big estates... It's called DIVERSITY and it gives our children a richer experience, one that books can not equal. This issue seems to mirror the bigger issue in our country today. The very rich want a complete separate reality...
Claire July 22, 2012 at 10:44 PM
stig: where do you get your numbers from. Without a feasibility study, no one knows what the dollar amts are.
Claire July 22, 2012 at 10:50 PM
sig; if you attended informational sessions, you would know that the overall plan of the Mega K-12 is to lower the overall cost and have WT keep their taxes the same, therefore allowing WMM to lower their taxes. People, please get educated !!!
The Stig July 23, 2012 at 05:45 PM
When the HS district was formed the costs per student paid by each town were roughly equal. Now, WT has a bargain and the rest of the towns are carrying their HS. If a mega-district is formed the small savings from eliminating some of the administration will not counterbalance the massive shift of per pupil expenses at the grade school level.
The Stig July 23, 2012 at 05:48 PM
If you want a mega-district there's a simple solution - Negotiate a fair distribution of the budget based on equal per pupil costs, not town/borough ratables, and I'm certain the Mendhams and Chesters will come running.
Domino July 23, 2012 at 06:07 PM
I urge all of the readers to take a look at the facebook page established to knock Mendham Borough Mayor Neil Henry. It's no wonder that we need laws protecting kids from bullying; the example set by parents is atrocious. If the individual(s) behind this facebook page are elected officials then all of us taxpayers are in deep trouble. And if this is what it is like living in Mendham Township, no wonder so many homes are for sale.
GiGi Richards July 23, 2012 at 06:24 PM
@beenthere - you haven't been here. This is a terrible situation which is having a potentially disastrous impact on our children and has already cost good people their jobs or BOE positions. WT/Long Valley pays a FAIR tax towards the school districts. People in Mendham and Chester have homes worth much more than WT(LV) and they have more ratables. Our tax bills are higher yet they pay higher because of the worth of their property. It is pure snobbery on their part and plain out and out ignorance.
Claire July 23, 2012 at 06:40 PM
Diversity - ha!. The people living in $4M houses send their kids to private school, they don't attend WMM.. The CBS group hold no different economic status than most LV residents. if you think everyone at WMM is rich, then you're mistaken.
Maria July 23, 2012 at 08:16 PM
I'm just trying to understand the situation, having moved to Washington Twp. a few years ago. We choose this town mainly for the school's high rating and it is disheartening (to say the least) to see that it is in such flux. No, I don't think "everyone a WMM is rich", and I know that there will always be a segment of the population which will send its kids to private schools... Given the value of our property, our taxes are not low!!! Moving to Chester or Mendam was not even an option because there was NOT A SINGLE HOUSE available in our price range...if there was, I'm guessing the taxes would be about the same as we pay here.
cv July 23, 2012 at 08:21 PM
@Maria I too moved here about 2 years ago . I had originally purchased a home in chester township but my buyer fell thru on my property so I started looking here. I can tell you My house here in LV is bigger but so is my tax bill. I would have had 2.5 acres in cheater township with an 8k tax bill. here in LV I pay 10k with .59. The square footage difference in homes is about 378 square feet. I actually paid more for my home here in LV.
Domino July 23, 2012 at 08:56 PM
Barbara: I think that the people running the facebook page and the BOE member(s) you describe above are one and the same. There are more than two wrongs and they are all coming from the same group of people, CBS. Don't blame the entire BOE for what Jamie Button and Arrington Nation do.
Maria July 23, 2012 at 09:47 PM
@cv...if that is the case, then the issue is not taxes but class bias. My gut tells me that the people with substantially larger homes outside of WT resent the fact that there is not just "Highest-Fifth" but possibly "Upper-Middle" families in the same school as theirs... Find..."quintiles to define class". in the following link for data (based on 2004 census) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Household_income_in_the_United_States
cv July 23, 2012 at 11:04 PM
@Maria there were severral posts stating that we pay a smaller percentage of school taxes to the regional district. I dont know what is fact or what isnt. I like youI was hoping the mayors would investigate and find a resoloution. I do believe it is class as well.
cv July 23, 2012 at 11:17 PM
@Domino what a damn shame and people wonder why kids are bullies.
Just Sayin' July 25, 2012 at 06:01 PM
Does anyone know if the cost of the study changes based on the number of options studied? It seems hard to believe the cost is the same no matter how many scenarios are reviewed. The goal of CBS is to keep pounding on WT and hope the residents will say enough and vote yes to just get away from the ugliness.
Domino July 25, 2012 at 06:29 PM
Barbara - just to be clear; I absolutely do not agree with you. One person can be blamed for the dysfunction. I won't mention his name but his initials are Jamie Button.
LVMom August 11, 2012 at 11:41 PM
the first thing we threw away was a magnet school for the gifted... too bad... they did it ... and you WILL see people move there just for the school. http://www.northjersey.com/news/Paterson_superintendent_set_to_unveil_academy_for_gifted_students.html

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