From the Echoes-Sentinel

WARREN TWP. – By year’s end, the public will receive the findings of a regionalization study about to be undertaken by the Watchung Hills Board of Education.

Board President Robert Morrison discussed the study’s timeline and related issues during a presentation to the Township Committee on Thursday, Feb. 17.

Morrison gave the committee a rundown of the different scenarios and various impacts the study will review. He noted that about 65 percent of Warren property tax revenue is spent on K-12 education.

“We feel it’s our obligation to take advantage of this opportunity to see if there’s a better way to use these funds,” said Morrison.

A formal application has been filed with the state, which will pay the expected $140,000 cost of the study, Morrison said. It’s anticipated the state will take two months to review that application and then 30 days for the board to obtain proposals from consultants seeking to work on the project. The study could begin by late May, according to Morrison.

The study will review five potential K-12 scenarios. One would be to maintain the status quo, where Warren and Long Hill townships and Watchung are regionalized members at the high school level, with Green Brook involved in a sending-receiving arrangement. Those districts would all maintain their own separate K-8 school systems.

Another scenario would be for the four districts to fully regionalize on a K-12 basis. The probe will also consider the effect of Watchung, Warren and Long Hill regionalizing on a K-12 basis and Green Brook continuing its high sending-receiving relationship.

The fourth option would be for any combination of less than four districts regionalizing across K-12. The fifth scenario would maintain the status quo, but seek significant shared services opportunities.

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

“We don’t have a position on whether or not any of this makes sense to do,” said Morrison. “We are not advocating for regionalization. What we’re advocating for is, let’s take a look at it and see if we can learn.”

The individual K-8 districts are cooperating by supplying requested data, but are not formal study participants, Morrison said. Committeeman George Lazo asked about their lack of involvement.

“I’m not sure of their individual motivations,” said Morrison. “They all have their own varying issues that they’re dealing with right now that may take precedence.” He noted that the Watchung K-8 district is looking to bring a revised referendum before voters. In Warren, officials are about to look at a grade realignment or redistricting of elementary schools due to anticipated growth.

Mayor Victor Sordillo said that while he campaigned last fall, most of the questions asked by constituents were about education.

Based on those sentiments, Sordillo said he believes a referendum to create a K-12 Warren-only school system, without sending-receiving districts, would be approved by township voters.

“Technically, is that feasible?” Morrison replied. “Probably. Would it make sense in the long term? Probably not, because in that instance, you would be leaving other districts without a place to go.”