WARREN TWP. – As discussions surrounding school district consolidation and amending school start times gain steam at the state level, Watchung Hills Regional High School representatives are keeping their ears open.
Board of Education member Gregory Przybylski raised both topics at a board meeting on Tuesday, Aug. 20, saying it would be worthwhile for the board to seriously discuss them at some point.
The state is currently seeking five high schools to push back start times to 8:30 a.m. or later. The pilot program seeks to study the pros and cons of later start times for teenagers, whom studies suggest would benefit from extra sleep in the morning.
“It’s been a topic that’s been discussed at this table before. I think there’s good science to suggest that the high school kids need longer morning time to sleep in,” Przybylski said.
Superintendent Elizabeth Jewett said she is “very interested” in the idea, though Watchung Hills is not likely to be among the initial schools to take the plunge, as the change would have a number of ramifications on the four K-8 sending districts.
She did say the superintendents for the K-8 districts were receptive to the idea at a recent roundtable discussion of Somerset County superintendents.
“There was a couple of us that expressed particular interest in looking at the later start times, so when I expressed my interest the other superintendents very willingly said they would participate in that conversation as well,” she said.
As for school district consolidation, board members Przybylski and Robert Morrison said the idea is worth a look, whether it be forming a grades K-12 district with Warren Township schools or forming a regional grades K-12 district including Warren, Watchung and Long Hill.
“I do believe that it’s in everyone’s interest for us to take a good, hard look at this,” said Morrison. “Again, we do our due diligence to see if there is something here that will not only benefit the taxpayers but will be additive for the educational value for our students.”
He said the 2013 consolidation of four school districts into the South Hunterdon Regional High School District has had a “significant” positive impact on education for its students.
“So even if it turns out that it’s break-even from a financial standpoint, there may be educational advantages by having a larger, unified system” in a K-12 distirct, he said.
Advocates for consolidation say the move would reduce property taxes by eliminating administrative redundancies, streamline efficiency and offer educational benefits. Others say consolidation would result in a loss in local autonomy, and are skeptical of the financial advantages.
Jewett said the county superintendent’s office plans to conduct feasibility studies on consolidation of area school districts. She said the state is providing the funding.
Morrison added the state Legislature has put additional funding aside for districts to conduct their own studies as well.
The superintendent said she would keep the board apprised of any updates on either consolidation or school start time as discussions occur at the county level.
“We may find out that it’s something that’s completely not feasible on both accounts because it would be so exorbitantly expensive or it might not be,” she said. “Or, it might just be that there’s some minor roadblocks that we can deal with over time and that it’s something that is feasible.”
Either way, she said, it is important for the district to keep itself informed.