School Choice Program debated

It was a tough crowd at the Evesham Board of Education meeting Thursday, Dec. 19. A presentation was shown that hit a nerve with the community and the board. The district is looking for ways to increase revenue, and the proposal was for: the district to be a part of the Interdistrict Public School Choice Program, which invites students from neighboring districts to pay tuition to attend Evesham middle schools; and the repurposing of Evans Elementary School.

The meeting spanned from 7 p.m. until 11:15 p.m. Two of those hours were devoted to the 26-slide presentation and the community outcry.

Board member Kevin Stone presented his findings for possible revenue through these restructuring projects.

According to the research, the capacity for ETSD is 5,605 students and it is currently at 4,594 students. The numbers indicated that because of a low birth rate in 2009 and declined enrollment, it would be possible to consolidate the elementary schools and repurpose Evans Elementary as an early childhood center with full-day and half-day daycare programs and expand into an integrated preschool program.

The change would reduce staff by 24. The research indicated one principal, seven teachers, two special education teachers, one nurse, one guidance counselor, two secretary/clerk typists, two teacher aides, two teacher’s assistants, five lunch aides and one custodian could be eliminated.

However, there are several retirements, including one unannounced principal retirement on the horizon. This will balance it out to be one guidance counselor, two teacher’s aides and five lunch aides.

There are three district vacancies — two teacher assistants and one custodian.

The research indicated the consolidation would also cause the classroom sizes to swell by 1.1 students.

According to the presentation, the savings for school consolidation would be $1.2 million for the 2014–2015 school year.

These figures did not sway Board President Sandy Student, whose two children attended Evans Elementary School.

“I think Evans is the vitality of the community. It’s a phenomenal learning community with involved parents and principal,” Student said. “To my thinking, if you’re not selling it, it doesn’t make sense. The administration building makes sense. We don’t want it to impact our children. There was almost a motion at this meeting to take Evans off the table.”

According to the presentation, the choice program could bring in as much as $1.1 million for the 2019–2020 school year. Research projects that average class sizes would still be 17.1 for first grade.

The choice program is not practical and financially sound, according to Student.

“One board member walked through the halls of the school and noticed there were only two empty classrooms, and it would require up to 100 extra students to fit,” Student said. “The choice program won’t help us. We’d have to expense those students the first year, but there will be no revenue. The state has scaled back the choice program. Four years ago, it was proposed to the board and was turned down.”

Student did not hold back his opinion on the issue of the choice program.

“What’s the Einstein quote? The definition of insanity is taking the same data and expecting different results,” Student said “I don’t think it’s getting done. There are other ways to bring revenue. I think there will be a motion to take it off the table in January.”

In other news:

• There is a policy that requires attendants of Board of Education meetings to give 48 hours’ notice to the board for videotaping the meeting. However, this policy is never enforced and the board voted to do away with it altogether.

• The board is looking into the risk management method of self-insurance. This would allow the district to set aside money for potential future incidents.

• The next board meeting will be held at Beeler Elementary School on Jan. 2. For more meeting information, visit www.evesham.k12.nj.us.