2011-07-07 / Front Page

Five high schools consider taking Jamesburg students

Board will conduct feasibility study after narrowing list
BY CHRISTINA HABERSTROH
Staff Writer

The Jamesburg Board of Education has found five high schools willing to consider accepting the borough’s high school students starting with the 2012-13 school year.

Jamesburg contacted 18 school districts in hopes of finding a more affordable alternative to Monroe Township High School, where the borough has sent its students for the past 32 years through a send-receive relationship. Monroe’s rising tuition rate, which starting in the 2011-12 school year will incorporate the cost of debt service for the construction of its new high school, prompted Jamesburg officials to consider the pullout.

The first class to be affected by the change would be those entering eighth grade this fall. Jamesburg students already attending Monroe or about to enter their freshman year will be able to complete all four high school years there.

Jamesburg School Business Administrator Tom Reynolds said the tuition cost in Monroe, now at $16,100 per pupil, may rise each year, and it will become an issue for Jamesburg when preparing its 2012-13 budget, due in part to the state-imposed 2 percent cap on tax levy increases. For the 2011-12 budget, the Jamesburg board is using “one-shot revenues” and surplus funds that may not be available next year. If the board finds itself in need of raising taxes beyond the 2 percent cap, the only way to do so is by getting voters to approve a public ballot question, he said.

At the June 30 Board of Education meeting, Jamesburg Superintendent of Schools Gail Verona listed the 18 schools that the board contacted to determine interest in receiving Jamesburg students. Those not interested in receiving the students include East Brunswick, New Brunswick, North Brunswick, Highland Park, Perth Amboy, Sayreville, South Brunswick, South River, Spotswood, East Windsor, Princeton, Hazlet and Holmdel. The schools that expressed an interest, pending further information, were West Windsor, South Amboy, Old Bridge, the Freehold Regional High School District and Matawan-Aberdeen.

The Jamesburg Board of Education will now send those five schools information regarding demographics, ethnicity and special education needs.

The board is requesting that the interested schools give Jamesburg a decision no later than Sept. 30, Verona said.

Officials hope that by finding a more affordable location for the high school students, the K-8 schools will be able to reinstate some of the programs that have been lost over the past few years due to cuts. School board member Sal Brucato said budget-cut casualties have included music, art and even computer classes.

“We feel it’s mandatory that the programs get reinstated as soon as possible,” he said, adding that the lack of programs is jeopardizing children’s education and not allowing them to become well-rounded students.

“Our objective is to get things back,” Brucato said of the lost K-8 programs. He said that looking into a more affordable and well-suited high school, as well as restoring programs, should be an equal priority for both the board and concerned parents.

“They need to be looked at hand in hand. It can’t be one over the other,” he said.

Jamesburg parents who see Monroe Township High School as the one true home for students have developed a committee to keep the community informed of the situation that the two towns are facing. They have been instrumental in soliciting help from local and state officials in what they believe is the biggest problem — a less-than-fair share of state aid. Monroe receives $198 per student in state aid while similar districts receive more. Parents and officials have been working to get that number increased in hopes that it would help with the situation.

Paul Gentile, co-founder of the committee Citizens of Jamesburg and Monroe United, said the students belong at Monroe.

“Jamesburg and Monroe are two towns, but we are one community. Splitting us would be like a divorce,” he said.

In order to help get the word out, the committee developed an informational pamphlet.

They point out that travel time and transportation can prove troublesome with a new school. The guide also states that the potential move could mean a decrease in property values.

“We already know that home values in towns are reduced by the lack of a hometown high school. Busing students to a distant high school will only reduce values further in Jamesburg,” the pamphlet said. “Keep the money here. Keep our children here.”

Brucato said he is concerned with some of the information in the pamphlet and did not agree with the point regarding home values .“ I have argued that if we go to a better high school, why would values decrease? I think a bigger problem for homeowners will be if taxes continue to escalate in Jamesburg,” he said.

Brucato acknowledged that transportation can become an issue, but further investigation needs to be done to determine the additional or reduced costs. He added that the number of buses could actually decrease if the students moved to another high school.

He said that the board is looking at “cost, as well as quality, and what is going to give us the best at the most affordable rate.”

“We can’t raise taxes anymore,” he said.

One concern that parents had with the update given last week was that the timeline would not be adequate to prepare students for the curriculum at a new school. Verona said the board would work to keep pace with the timelines and ensure that the students know the outcome once it is available.

“We are not going to compromise the way the children enter into high school,” she said.

Once the list of possible schools is further narrowed, a feasibility study would be conducted at an expected cost of $18,000 and will look at the end of the send/receive relationship between Monroe and Jamesburg, and the possible new relationship with another school. Any additional schools added to the study will cost the board $2,900, Reynolds said.

Once the feasibility study is complete, an ad hoc committee will be established, consisting of Jamesburg parents and board members, to become a source of information, helping to educate the community on the numbers and details, board members said.

Whatever choice is made for the students, Gentile said, it cannot be a short-term decision, and he hopes it would last more than 32 years.

“Changing schools, in my opinion, just kicks the can down the road,” he said last month. “It would be sad to see our kids up here doing the same thing all over again.”

“The geography shared by Jamesburg and Monroe has enabled children to engage with their future classmates from very young ages. Many have grown, dated, married and settled families in our community. This dynamic will change forever,” the Citizens of Jamesburg and Monroe United said.

Ultimately, the state commissioner of education will make the final decision, Verona said.

“TheBoard of Education is doing what the taxpayers expect us to do, and that is provide the best education possible within the financial constraints we have,” Brucato said. “Right now, doing that with Monroe Township High School does not fit in the equation.”

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