Smaller districts face changes

McGreevy’s plan to consolodate schools may affect Jamesburg.

By: Rebecca Tokarz
   JAMESBURG — School officials said Gov. James E. McGreevey should consider the impact that consolidating school districts would have on smaller towns before moving forward with any plan to reduce the number of districts.
   During this State of the State address Jan. 13, Gov. McGreevey said he wants the Department of Education to assess how the smaller districts are spending their money and may seek ways to require them to consolidate services.
   Jamesburg officials said the governor’s plan to cut costs will take away from the small-town feel of districts such as Jamesburg, where residents pitch in to help.
   "What you gain from the financial aspect is taken away from the personalization of it," said Jamesburg Superintendent Shirley Bzdewka. "Everyone knows everyone and is willing to help everyone else."
   Gov. McGreevey said he wanted to eliminate the 23 school districts that do not have a school and send their students to other districts and raised the question about whether there was a need for the 172 districts in the state that have just one school building.
   "Do we really need 172 school districts with only one school building?" he asked during this speech.
   But state Department of Education spokesman Richard Vespucci said the governor is not talking about forced regionalization of the 172 one-school districts. He said Gov. McGreevey wants schools to consolidate their services so less tax dollars are spent on administrative costs and more are spent in the classroom.
   Mr. Vespucci said the governor would devise a plan in six months that would assess these one-building districts. Until then, "it’s business as usual," he said.
   "The governor is not going to be asking these districts at this time to give up their local control, but rather, will be asking them to go through a process where they will be required to demonstrate what they are doing to operate as efficiently and effectively as they can," Mr. Vespucci said. "How are they handling their pupil transportation? Are they teaming up with the municipal government?"
   Ms. Bzdewka said the district is aware of costs and has done what it can, including working with the Borough Council to keep costs down.
   The borough currently shares services with the school district by maintaining the outside facilities and doing things like mowing lawns, she said. The district also is looking into shaving costs in other ways by seeking cheaper price quotes for paper and other items, according to Ms. Bzdewka.
   "We’re always looking at ways to spread the dollars we have farther," she said.
   Ms. Bzdewka said the governor should involve district officials when they begin to devise plans because only a district administrator could explain to state officials how their proposed plans impact the district and its students.
   "If the governor is serious, he needs to involve educators in this process and get a sense of the positives and negatives," she said. "They need to think of the way it’s going to be received and have answers for people."
   Ms. Bzdewka said the consolidation plan will trickle down to districts like Jamesburg that have two schools and send high school students out-of-district.