From the Echoes-Sentinel

WARREN TWP. – After months with a dearth of information from the state, the Watchung Hills Regional High School (WHRHS) Board of Education has learned its regionalization study application is moving along.

An update on the board’s feasibility study status came at the Tuesday, June 28 WHRHS board meeting.

Board President Robert Morrison said word was received earlier that day that the state Department of Community Affairs (DCA) is currently reviewing all of its regionalization study applications.

He reported that the state will be approving the applications en masse, with June 30 being the new application deadline.

The WHRHS district expects to learn in July whether its regionalization study has been approved.

“That’s the latest that I’ve been told and all I can do is tell you what they’re telling me,” Morrison said. “I’m not always convinced, but it is what it is.”

Board member Rita Barone noted that the board is “actually moving” towards a regionalization feasibility study, “as compared to so many other times when they said we were going to work on regionalization.”

“We were going to do this, we’re going to do this, and finally, actually progress,” Barone said.

‘Moving Goal Line’

Morrison explained in a June 29 interview that he was “being a little facetious,” given that the timeline for approval has “been a moving goal line.”

“The idea that they were holding all applications for a batch approval process after the June 30 deadline was completely new to us,” he said.

In February, the board filed a formal application with the state, which would pay the study’s $140,000 cost.

The timeline envisioned back then was much quicker than what has played out. It was anticipated that the Department of Community Affairs would 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 was projected to begin by late May, Morrison said in March.

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.

The Watchung Hills board does not have a pro or con stance towards regionalization.

Morrison has repeatedly 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.

Any formal proposal to regionalize the district could not be enacted unilaterally by the board. It would require voter approval in each of the towns involved.