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.”
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.
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.