Judge decides students may stay at present high school


Staff Writer

The Freehold Regional High School District has prevailed in an initial decision against Howell’s objection to adjusted attendance boundaries for the current 2006-07 school year.

However, the attorney representing the township, Thomas Gannon, has filed exceptions with the commissioner of the Department of Education which now act as a “mini-appeal,” according to Gannon.

The case stems from a September 2005 FRHSD Board of Education decision that altered attendance boundaries in the district. As part of the decision, more than 100 incoming ninth-graders from Howell were districted to attend Colts Neck High School. Prior to the board’s action, those incoming freshmen would have attended Howell High School.

Howell officials objected to the redistricting and filed a petition with the commissioner in February. The township sought to declare the attendance area boundaries null and void.

With the case in court, the affected Howell students began class at Colts Neck High School in September.

On Oct. 5, Administrative Law Judge Joseph F. Martone denied the objection.

Martone said in his written decision, “I find that the school district has expended significant time, money and resources in planning and budgeting for the 2006-07 school year in reliance upon the attendance boundary plan. I am satisfied that it will be extremely onerous if not impossible for the district to accomplish and implement any change … for this current school year.”

With Gannon filing exceptions, however, the case now rests before the commissioner of education.

At the board’s Nov. 20 meeting at its offices in Englishtown, FRHSD attorney Nathanya Simon said the commissioner is expected to render a decision in January.

Superintendent of Schools James Wasser said he did not understand why the case is continuing, noting that the redistricted students have already been in school for nearly three months.

“What is a judge going to rule now?,” he asked at the board meeting. “I know everyone is entitled to their opinion, but this is costing the taxpayer more money – not only to the township, but the board. Taxpayers need to know that.”

After board members questioned if a favorable decision for the petitioners (Howell) could result in a reversal of the redistricting for the 2007-08 school year, Simon said she “would find it highly unlikely. A court can only decide what’s before it.”

With that being the case, board Vice President Ron Lawson of Howell said he believes the redistricting battles will resurface.

“When we ultimately prevail, we’re going to start all over again,” he said.

Gannon, though, left the door open to preclude current and future litigation when he said, “There may be some discussion so we can come to a meeting of the minds.”