Editorial for the week of Feb. 2

Schools need state’s help to function

By: Vanessa Holt
   With the closing of the Holy Assumption School in Roebling, parents of the 165 students there will be faced this fall with the choice of either sending their young children to a non-local school to continue their private education, or bringing them into their local public school districts — districts that had not anticipated an influx of formerly privately educated students in the new school year.
   The impact of this closure will be felt everywhere in the community, not just among the families that sent students to the Catholic schools under the Diocese of Trenton.
   While a formal survey of the families at Holy Assumption has not been made, interviews with parents and administrators have suggested that many will not be making the move to the John Paul II Regional School at what is now the Corpus Christi campus in Willingboro. It’s one thing to have a private school close to home, but quite another to send a child — especially a very young one — several towns away. The commute between the two locations without any stops would clock in at 20 minutes, and a bus route would take much longer.
   However necessary this consolidation is, it seems unlikely that a majority of families would choose to go that far when much closer schools, including the public school system, would allow parents to keep their children close to home.
   But increasingly, consolidating services is becoming the only way to survive for schools, fire departments and of course businesses that cannot afford all of the costs of operating multiple locations and all the attendant staff and administration that go with them.
   If this is the trend, however, it looks as though education will continue to have to compromise and cut back across the board, both private and public, leaving parents with hard decisions and fewer choices.
   Look at what schools face today: a huge leap in the cost of fuel and insurance, dwindling support for budgets and referendums (three of the area’s eight school budgets were defeated last year, while Chesterfield’s referendum for a new school failed for the second time last December) and the annual compromise of meeting state and federal requirements with very little wiggle room under state budget caps and no additional state aid for increasing student populations.
   Demands at the state and federal levels require more and more proof of performance from schools while offering no increase in support for those programs. All the while, enrollment goes up, the cost of living goes up, and parents’ taxes and personal costs go up in general.
   Closing the doors at Holy Assumption after 82 years may have been inevitable without a sharp increase in enrollment and decrease in operating costs, but with that private education option gone, the burden on local public schools increases and the cycle continues: too many students, not enough aid, not enough support from the state.
   We urge New Jersey’s Gov. Jon Corzine to pick up the reins that his predecessors dropped, unfreeze school aid to match the changing enrollment figures, and acknowledge that schools cannot function under a restrictive budget cap as long as operating costs continue to snowball.