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Sunday, June 16, 2024


Keep Dennis 9th Graders In Township? 6.28.2006

By Christine Cote

DENNISVILLE – Should Dennis Township School District keep its ninth graders in its school instead of sending them to Middle Township High School?
What about setting up a charter program to attract more students?
County Superintendent of Schools Albert Monillas was invited to speak to the school board by Superintendent George Papp June 22 to talk to the board about those questions.
Keeping the ninth graders for an additional year would save money on tuition and maximize Dennis’ use of its facilities.
“In days of old when high schools started to have waiting lists,” Monillas said, they wanted grade schools to have ninth grade.
Today there is “declining enrollment in most school districts,” he said.
Because the township has had a sending and receiving relationship with Middle Township School District since the ’40s, Monillas said, Middle’s permission would be needed to change it. A resolution to amend the sending-receiving contract would be required.
Then he suggested that there might be creative ways around that, like an academy or magnet model.
“Suppose you think that Middle isn’t doing enough with the arts or technology,” Monillas said. Or, he suggested, develop a program in medical arts.
The board wouldn’t have to send all ninth graders there and it might get students from other districts interested in attending.
But, he cautioned, “You can’t go off and do it on your own.”
A feasibility study approved by the state would be required, for one thing, he said. Under state statues governing the actions of the board, hearings would have to be held.
As an alternative, he said, there is a “brand new thing that has not been tried but it is on the books.” That’s a ninth grade charter school.
Most charter school are specialty schools, Monillas said, but there can be a school board sponsored one that wouldn’t have the board competing with another school for students and tuition.
Can you put a charter school within an existing school? Lapidus asked.
Yes, said Monillas, health and safety certificates and a certificate of occupancy are needed.
Most decisions are due to facilities Monillas said, not educational need. He added he had just found out that a school district in north Jersey sends students to a school in New York State.
In his opinion, said Monillas, “all school systems should be K-12.” There is nothing better to provide continuity for students.
Can Dennis afford that? He said he didn’t think so.
Offering ninth grade in the school might not be cost effective, Monillas said because Dennis would have to offer the same educational opportunities that would have been available at Middle.
But there are creative ways of doing that, he said. Some of his suggestions: some high schools don’t have a gym and give students vouchers to use at a commercial gym and students can take AP courses on line.
Board President John Robertson explained that the whole idea was being looked at for “cost cutting.”
The school could offer an “enhanced eighth grade,” Monillas said, with traditional English 9, Math 9 and Foreign Language 1. But keeping students on par with the ultimate high school they would attend would be the challenge, he suggested.
He asked the board whether it realized that if 51 percent of parents and 51 percent of teachers decided they didn’t want “anything to do with you they can set up their own board of directors.”
Economically, that approach wasn’t feasible, he said, because they would have to use 90 percent of the tuition paid to it by the board to educate the students.
Has there been any instance where teachers have formed a charter school? board member Larry Lapidus asked Monillas.
“No, never been done,” was his reply.
Then he suggested that the board take a look at a less “cumbersome,” law, the one that governs a public entity’s ability to enter into an interlocal agreement with another public entity.
That is the foundation for the shared administrative staff between Avalon and Stone Harbor school districts initiated last year. Monillas pointed to that and said there a similar arrangement in Gloucester County.
Using an interlocal agreement approach, the district superintendents do not have to petition the state Department of Education or complete a study to prove one can handle both schools, Monillas said.
Rather, the school can do it as a one-year contract to see how it works, he said but emphasized that he wouldn’t want to see students “be a ping pong for a year.”
 Ultimately, Monillas suggested that the district work with Middle Township. But he still advocated that the district think creatively and suggested that if it had a topic to pursue through a specialty school within its district, the entire state school board “would come down to assist.”
“So what you are saying is, offer something unique,” said board member Lisa Toft.
It always comes down to need, said Monillas. “I have suggested to other schools – start a reading academy. Parents will work two jobs to pay tuition if there is a need.”
“If there is a need, people will come,” Monillas said. “Find what students are hungering for, you’ll be the most hated school board.”
Would the state supply funding? asked Toft.
No, Monillas told her, the state had only about $200,000 on hand in an emergency fund for schools but there might be some federal funding possible.
Contact Cote at (609) 886-8600 Ext 31 or:

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