In this issue, I write the third, and final, entry of my series “The Future of our Schools.” The backdrop of this conversation is the Path to Progress report commissioned by the State Senate and delivered last August and the “Impediments to School Board Regionalization” report published by the N.J. School Board Association.
Both reports can be found by visiting www.HarrisonTwp.US. I’m focused on the practical application of the PTP recommendations and the impediments report’s findings, as they would pertain to the Harrison Township School District.
I cannot overstate how monumental these considerations are. With the options and obstacles before us, does a particular PTP recommendation save money when applied to a specific school district? Can we answer that question for our community?
Clearview is a regional school district, with two K-6 sending districts in Harrison and Mantua. Both districts account for fewer than 1,400 students each, with Mantua comprised of three locations (Centre City, JMT and Sewell) and Harrison consisting of two school buildings (HTS and PVS).
The first hurdle in creating a single, new K-12 district is that all staff will become the employees the same employer, with presumably the same contract. Currently, there are three separate and unique contracts with their own circumstances and histories. The issue of leveled salaries immediately comes to mind as a concern. How will that work? In our case, the two existing K-6 districts are in different towns with different tax rates and debt histories that have previously been unrelated. Will the outstanding debt from these separate entities become the responsibility of all taxpayers in both towns?
These are issues that the NJSBA’s report addresses generally, but the devil is in the details of these costs. Does regionalization create a new district that runs efficiently, for less money, than the original districts? Specifically, the conversation here may end with the leveled salary question. In looking at Harrison’s K-6 district, calculations show that it will cost an additional $808,000 in the first year to pay those teachers on the Clearview scale (not counting custodians, secretaries, aides and administrators). Is that offsetted by savings elsewhere in a regionalization?
Digging deeper, I can tell you that Harrison’s district is evaluated, statewide, in a group of 56 districts of similar size and economic comparisons. Based on the “Taxpayers Guide to Education Spending 2018” released by the state, we have the ninth lowest total administration cost and the per pupil administration cost is 33 percent below the state cap limitation. The guide also states that Harrison has the third highest median teachers salary among its peer group.
Those numbers don’t appear to leave the required room to result in our taxpayers saving money with a local regionalization. Unless the process includes state supplementation, a phase-in period and other savings through location consolidation as an offset? As Trenton debates the path forward, residents deserve clarity if their support is expected.