From the Echoes-Sentinel

After months of discussion and urging that others participate, the Watchung Hills Regional Board of Education’s regionalization study will get under way this spring.

Board President Robert Morrison gave an informative and unbiased summary of the upcoming review on Feb. 17 during a presentation to the Warren Township Committee.

Along with setting the stage for the project, Morrison provided plenty of food for thought for anyone who’s been following the coming study’s saga since last year. It will look into possible benefits of K-12 regionalization among the four districts that currently send students to Watchung Hills Regional High School, whether all might decide to consolidate or only some.

The study will look at regionalization’s potential impacts in areas such as education, finance, facilities and others.

As Morrison’s presentation proceeded, one question remained unanswered, even though he ventured a guess: Why were K-8 districts in the three towns that send high school pupils to regionalized Watchung Hills, as well as sending district Green Brook, unwilling to formally participate in the study?

It’s a question that’s been asked before and remains puzzling, especially since the state is footing the study’s anticipated $140,000 tab.

Morrison ventured a diplomatic guess when the Warren committee asked. He opined that – at least in Watchung and Warren Township – the respective K-8 boards of education currently have other weighty matters on their plates.

In Watchung, the board looks to get a revised school improvement referendum before voters this year after an initial plan was defeated by voters last December.

The Warren board is looking into potential rezoning or realignment of grades attending district elementary schools due to anticipated development-induced enrollment growth.

True, those are important local issues that require involved review. But Morrison noted that the four K-8 districts are collaborating, in a sense, by sharing requested data for the study.

If that’s the case, why not participate officially, particularly since no K-8 district would be bound by the study’s results? The decision of any specific district to regionalize would require voter approval. The study then, would be just a starting point. Any proposal to follow up and consolidate would require an extensive vetting in the district considering regionalization.

We can only surmise that the reluctance to participate was due, at least in part, to fears of relinquishing home rule for elementary and middle school education.

While local boards and school officials might have such reservations, we found one other Feb. 17 occurrence quite telling.

The Watchung Borough Council met that same night. During its public comments portion, a resident asked that governing body to host a regionalization presentation similar to Warren Township. Watchung Mayor Keith Balla said he’d be open to it. No Watchung Borough Council members objected.

So, while K-8 school officials appear reluctant to get too involved in the regionalization study, there is apparently an appetite to know more, at least in two local communities.