Will the Harding School District Be Consolidated with Another District?
This was a question asked by a member of the public during one of the open public hearing sections of the Board of Education (BOE) meeting.
In early October, Governor Murphy revealed a plan that “could ultimately lead to the elimination of nearly 300 school districts.” Harding Township School was on the list. The Superintendent noted that it appeared that all K-8 schools in NJ were presented on this same list, and as such, the plan seems to be in its nascent stage.
“The goal is to eliminate the administration, put a principal in the school, get rid of the school district, leave a principal, let the regional high school become a K-12 district,” NJ Senate president Sweeney said. “You go from 600 districts to 320.”
The comments from the Board of Education, all strongly opposed, came rapidly:
- The plan gave no thought to the 90 years of successful education of students here in Harding.
- The plan calls to combine all K-5, K-6 and K-8 districts with a 9-12 high school district.
- We are very early in the process.
- The State of NJ sends only $440K to Harding, a small percentage of the school budget, so the State would save little money, and Harding would seriously consider foregoing those funds to remain independent.
- Harding would have only 2 of 9 board seats if combined with Madison, and therefore lose voting, curricular and operational control of HTS.
- Harding would be a loser in any combination, for many reasons, based on a prior (relatively recent), detailed study that was already completed.
- Intent is to save money – example 2 police departments to one.
- They may want us to combine with Morristown.
- We have not heard about a forced consolidation.
- Not concerned because the State is only asking districts to “look into it.”
- Have received a lot of concern – 30 emails and texts.
A member of the public commented that consolidations generally cost jobs and asked if the teachers’ union, the powerful NJEA, has taken a public position on the plan. “Nothing yet” was the response.
A board member said school consolidation was the #1 topic at a May meeting of school board reps from across the State. He reported that the targeted districts were ones that are smaller than HTS, financially strapped, and not providing good education results.
The meeting attendees seemed to agree that this is a topic that requires close attention, as the consequences for Harding are very powerful and negative.
Harding citizens would lose control of their school. And even if a family does not have children in the HT school, the property tax consequences could be very negative. Consider that the school tax represents just under half of a Harding homeowner’s property tax bill. In almost any consolidation scheme, HT would combine with a district with a higher school tax rate. This could cause a very sharp increase in a HT homeowner’s property tax bill, while the expected cost savings would largely be enjoyed by the other district’s residents.
Further, higher property taxes generally mean lower property values (all else being equal). And to the extent that our excellent local school is a big reason why buyers want to move here, losing the school will further depress demand for Harding homes and depress property values.
The sanguine comments of some on the Board of Ed notwithstanding, the Board of Ed and the meeting attendees seemed to agree that this plan from Trenton demands close attention of all residents.