From the Echoes-Sentinel

LONG HILL TWP. – Findings of a regionalization feasibility study conducted by the Watchung Hills Regional High School Board of Education will be available to the community at large by year’s end.

That comes after a year of the board researching the study and its funding, as well as holding conversations with its sending districts

To keep all stakeholders in the loop, Board President Robert Morrison has been presenting the regionalization study’s logistics before the sending districts’ municipal governing bodies.

He discussed the study’s timeline and potential recommendations at the Wednesday, March 23 Township Committee meeting.

In February, a formal application was filed with the state, which will pay the $140,000 cost of the study.

It’s anticipated that the state Department of Community Affairs will take two months to review that application, then 30 days for the board to obtain proposals from consultants seeking to work on the project. The study is projected to begin by late May, Morrison said.

“The purpose of the study is to conclude how to best provide the best educational services cost efficiently,” Morrison said.

There are five scenarios the study will explore. One would be total regionalization, with Watchung, Long Hill, Warren and Green Brook districts joined in a grades K-12 school district.

Another option would be Watchung Hills and the constituent districts of Watchung, Long Hill and Warren creating a single regional school district, while Green Brook enters into a sending-receiving grades 9-12 agreement.

The Watchung Hills board will also review other potential consolidation scenarios and shared services opportunities between the districts.

The feasibility study will consider the educational, racial, staffing, financial, facilities, governance and legal impacts of regionalization.

At this time, the Watchung Hills board does not have a pro or con stance towards regionalization. “We have no position on whether or not regionalization is a good idea since we lack the information even to make such a consideration,” Morrison said.

He stressed that a feasibility study comes with no strings attached. It carries no commitment for any district other than reviewing the information, discussing it and deciding what may be the best path forward.

In the Watchung Hills municipalities, 65 percent of property taxes go towards education, Morrison noted.

“As duly elected representatives of our communities, we have a responsibility, indeed an obligation, to explore all avenues that could lead to the improvement of education for our students and to be good stewards of the hard-earned taxpayer dollars that we have the responsibility to manage,” Morrison said.

Deputy Mayor Guy Piserchia asked for examples of how shared services would possibly pan out, and how regionalization could cause racial inequity.

Morrison pointed to a unified transportation system and special services program.

The study looks to affirm that regionalization would not create “more segregated school districts” by creating “haves and have nots,” Morrison explained.

Committeeman Scott Lavender inquired about the study’s educational quality component.

“As a regional high school, people always look at Watchung Hills and go: ‘Why don’t we score as well as Millburn? Why don’t we score as well as Ridge or Montgomery?’ The answer is we’re not a K-12 district,” Morrison said.

He contended that if there was a “unified, vertical articulation and coordinated curriculum” across the entire regionalized district, the educational quality would likely improve. Arts programs, athletic programs and other extracurricular activities would also be potentially revamped.

Morrison noted that any decision to regionalize would need voter approval and could not be unilaterally enacted by the regional board or local K-8 boards.