SOUTH HUNTERDON: Regionalization vote details getting clearer

Town Hall session planned for July 11

By John Tredrea, Special Writer
   On Sept. 24, voters in Lambertville, Stockton, and West Amwell will vote on whether to merge the four existing school districts into a single PreK-12 district.
   At a joint meeting held May 30, the four local boards of education each agreed to hold the special election on the regionalization issue. About two dozen residents attended the session.
   ”South Hunterdon RHS was honored to host this unprecedented four-board meeting,” said Dan Seiter, president of the SHRHS Board of Education.
   ”Given the monumental significance of the resolution under consideration (on May 30), our board along with the other three boards, saw a clear benefit in collaboratively deliberating and acting on the resolution together. The conversations, both from the public and amongst the board members, confirmed that the opportunities available through regionalization require careful consideration.”
   AT THE SEPT. 24 special election, voters will answer two linked questions, according to James D. Gallagher, president of the Stockton board of education.
   — The first question will ask voters to authorize the dissolution of the existing South Hunterdon Regional School District.
   — The second question will ask voters to approve the consolidation of the Lambertville, Stockton, and West Amwell elementary school districts and SHRHS into a new all-purpose regional school district serving children in pre-kindergarten through 12th grade.
   Passage of both questions is necessary for regionalization to take place. The first question will pass if a majority of voters in two of the three communities vote yes.
   However, the new district can be formed only if a majority of voters in each of the three communities vote yes on the second question. If one or both questions fail to pass, there would be no regionalization and the four districts would continue to operate as they have in the past.
   SO AREA RESIDENTS can learn more “about the potential benefits of regionalization,” the Regionalization Committee is hosting Town Hall meetings in the three communities this summer,” Mr. Gallagher said.
   The first of these meetings was held in West Amwell Township on Monday (June 3).
   Another is scheduled for July 11 at the firehouse in Stockton. A third town hall will be held in Lambertville, on a date to be determined.
   — At the West Amwell meeting held Monday at the SHRHS Commons, West Amwell Elementary School Board President Peter Gasparro, who chaired the lightly attended session, said: “I truly believe regionalization will deliver an exceptional education.”
   Mr. Gasparro’s presentation sought to dispel various myths and rumors now circulating about the proposed regionalization.
   ”Voting yes does not mean a new school will be built,” he said. “Our existing buildings are more than adequate.”
   He added that “voting yes does not mean existing schools would be closed” or that class sizes would become larger.
   AN INDEPENDENT feasibility study — conducted for SHRHS by the Princeton consulting firm Porzio Bromberg & Newman and released to the public in February 2012 — indicated that consolidating the four existing districts could potentially provide financial savings.
   ”More importantly, the study concluded that there would be educational benefits to regionalization,” Mr. Gallagher said, in a news release Monday.
   ”For example, a common strategic educational program for the district would enable a continuity of curriculum across all grades and permit better coordination of instructional processes,” Mr. Gallagher added.
   During the summer and fall of 2012, the county commissioner of education and the New Jersey Department of Education each reviewed the feasibility study and confirmed its findings.
   In response to a question from the public (on May 30) about what the new regional district would look like if it were formed, Steve Wolock, vice chairman of the South Hunterdon School Regionalization Committee, noted that the four existing districts would continue to operate as usual for the 2013-14 school year.
   The executive county superintendent of education would appoint nine members to the new regional district board. By state statute, representation on the regional board would be based on population and would be the same as the current makeup of the SHRHS board — five representatives from Lambertville, three from West Amwell, and one from Stockton.
   Once that board was seated, it would develop a budget, negotiate contracts with teachers, administrators, and other employees, and conduct additional business necessary to implement the new district structure.
   Once the county commissioner of education determined that the new district was prepared to operate, the four existing districts would pass out of existence and the new board would take control over all educational activities. The earliest this could occur would be July 1, 2014, although a later start is possible if the county commissioner does not feel the regional board is ready at that time.
   The configuration of grades and use of buildings in the newly formed regional district would ultimately be determined by the new school board and administration.
   Regionalization may offer opportunities to structure the district in a way that is most advantageous to the education of all students. However, in the short term it is likely that the three elementary schools would continue to operate as they have historically, according to Mr. Wolock.
   THE FOUR CURRENT BOARDS of education each have passed resolutions supporting the formation of a local task force if regionalization passes, according to Mr. Gallagher.
   This task force — to be made up of community members and educators —would study the qualities, characteristics and values that the public would like to see in the regional school district, and would prepare a strategic plan to recommend the most advantageous use of all facilities and educational programs. This plan could then be implemented over time by the new board of education.
   No substantive changes would be made until this task force has studied the overall situation and made recommendations to the new regional school board. In other words, the four existing districts would continue to operate as they do now for the 2013-14 school year while the task force works on its recommendations.
   For more information, readers should visit the Regionalization Committee’s website:, There they will find the text of the feasibility study and answers to many frequently asked questions about this issue.