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Consolidation Study Outlines Pros and Cons of School District Changes

A 2022 study by Stockton University’s Southern Regional Institute and Educational Technology Training Center considered options for possible integration of the school districts in Woodbine, Dennis Township and Middle Township.

By Vince Conti

In 2022, the Middle Township School District commissioned a study by Stockton University’s Southern Regional Institute and Educational Technology Training Center to consider options for possible integration of the school districts in Woodbine, Dennis Township and Middle Township.

The Herald recently obtained a copy of the completed study.

The key question was whether there is a better way for the districts to organize, resulting in benefits to students’ education and alleviating some of the pain caused by declining state aid.

Five scenarios were considered in the analysis:

  1. Have Woodbine students in grades pre-K to 5 go to Dennis Township schools and students in grades 6 to 8 go to Middle Township schools. Middle Township now provides high school, grades 9 to 12, for Woodbine students on a send-and-receive basis.
  2. Have Woodbine students in pre-K and kindergarten remain in the Woodbine district, with those in grades 1 to 5 going to Dennis and 6-8 going to Middle.
  3. Close the Woodbine school and send all students pre-K to 8 to Middle Township.
  4. Close the Woodbine school and send all students pre-K to 8 to Dennis Township.
  5. Consolidate the three school districts into one regional district.

The 106-page report looked at financial and legal issues, the portfolio of educational programs, what was termed the school climate, teacher ratios and district state assessments, among other things. The capacity of each town’s school structures was also a major consideration.

Each scenario had estimates of what it would likely mean for the school funding portion of each municipality’s property tax bill, if the scenario were enacted.

The study found distinct advantages in changes to the current arrangements among the three school districts.

Advantages

All three districts are anticipating less state aid in the future. The study argued that legislation in Trenton is looking to create incentives for regional school districts.

Students from Woodbine would benefit from access to several extracurricular programs not available in their district. Also, instructional times and calendars already used in each district are basically the same.

The study documents that Middle Township has the building capacity to accommodate grades 6 to 8 from Woodbine, and Dennis Township has the capacity to accommodate all grade levels from Woodbine.

Data on student population trends and district state assessment status present no impediments to any of the five scenarios.

In terms of racial balance, the study found that Woodbine students would experience a more diverse racial setting under any of the five scenarios.

The issues of teacher and other labor contracts, as well as changes to tax levies, get complicated, but the study suggests that the state will offer flexibility over a defined time period for implementation of a single regional district.

Disadvantages

Regionalization may result in closing neighborhood schools. It also results in the loss of home rule, since a school board common to the regional district would be put in place.

The scenarios encompass a range of options, from changes to send-and-receive relationships to outright consolidation into one district. The study says that transportation issues may involve students who do not now qualify for the service.

If a district is deemed non-operational, as could happen to Woodbine and possibly Dennis under various scenarios, there is a possibility of losing even that status. The county currently has three non-operating school districts, in Sea Isle City, West Wildwood and Cape May Point.

Support service personnel like cafeteria and custodial workers as well as part-time employees and teacher aides may be affected under statutes governing regional districts.

The analysis of tax and revenue appropriations under the five scenarios showed that in most cases at least one district would have a tax increase while the others would have a tax reduction. In a full consolidation, the analysis projects a tax increase for Middle Township and Woodbine and a reduction for Dennis Township.

There could be issues due to the lack of substantial curriculum overlap in the three districts. The study projects that “additional curriculum resources would need to be purchased in certain areas.”

There are potential issues and significant uncertainty surrounding the fate of Woodbine’s teaching staff should the district eventually be eliminated.

Conclusion

The study concludes by saying input should be sought from community stakeholders regarding the analysis and the social, curricular and financial implications.

In an email from David Salvo, superintendent of the Middle Township School District, to Peter Jesperson, a member of Cape Issues, a local nonpartisan advocacy group, Salvo characterized the study as showing that “all three school districts face disadvantages in consolidating and/or regionalization.” He did not mention the advantages identified by the study.

Salvo went on to say, “There are no plans for consolidation/regionalization at this time. Middle Township Public Schools, Dennis Township Public Schools and Woodbine Public Schools will continue to seek alternative programs/shared services that benefit each district.”

There is no easily identifiable documentation on how and when the school boards in each district discussed the study results. There is no copy of the study available for public consumption on any of the three school websites.

Whether the school boards will take up the study further or involve the public in it is unclear. Two concerns that could animate public interest are the downward trend in student performance and the significant burden school costs place on property taxes, especially in light of declining state aid.

Contact the author, Vince Conti, at vconti@cmcherald.com.

Reporter

Vince Conti is a reporter for the Cape May County Herald.

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