Updated: Apr 13
Two days after news of Atlantic Highlands School Board member Erin Dougherty’s resignation from the board of education was released in VeniVidi Scripto, the former board member addressed a letter to the Atlantic Highlands Herald citing her reasons for her resignation. Although a similar letter was not released to VeniVidiScripto, in fairness we are reprinting what appeared in the Herald to ensure as much coverage as possible of the very major decision of whether the public should have the right to vote on a regionalization question is resolved.
The resolution that both Highlands and Sea Bright already approved, and which is at issue before the Atlantic Highlands Borough Council simply requests the state Commissioner of Education to allow a question on the November ballot. It would simply ask if voters favor regionalization of three municipalities, Highlands, Atlantic Highlands and Sea Bright, for K-12 grades, and how it would impact taxes.
There has been one study completed, which appears to show both educational improvements for students and economic savings for taxpayers regionalizing in all three municipalities. The Henry Hudson district encompassing Highlands and Atlantic Highlands is anticipating the results of a second study, now expected to be completed sometime in late April or May. But there is no indication whether that study will show the same or different results. There is a deadline of Aug. 15 in order to get any question on the ballot this November.
Proponents of having Atlantic Highlands follow the lead of the other two municipalities in forwarding a resolution to the Commissioner to vote on the three town regional district, argue Council action soon in order to ensure the timeline is met to get the question on the ballot. Atlantic Highlands council could approve it and still have time before November to conduct public hearings, informational sessions and more information on how such a regionalization would be finalized. There is nothing to stop the borough council from conducting town hall meetings, informational sessions or any other public hearings after approving a resolution request to the Commissioner and submit a second question for the residents to vote on in November should they think an alternative idea is better.
Ms. Dougherty indicated she is resigning from the school board to ensure there is no conflict for her husband, Councilman Brian Dougherty, voting as a councilman on whether to put the question, or questions on the ballot so the public can make a decision on regionalization.
Should the question be resolved before the deadline for filing to fill an unexpired term on the school board….her own…there is also nothing preventing Ms Dougherty from also being on the ballot in November running for the one year unexpired term she was elected to two years ago created by her resignation this month ...Let that sink in ...
Ms. Dougherty’s letter:
Dear Atlantic Highlands Residents, It is with openness and gratitude I write this letter today to inform you of my resignation from the Atlantic Highlands Elementary School Board of Education. On Monday, April 4, 2022, after more than four years of service, I submitted a letter to both Board President Dr. Elisabeth Eittreim and Superintendent Dr. Tara Beams informing them of my resignation.
My journey on the school board began in 2018 with a goal of increasing awareness of the importance of social and emotional health within our school. I’m so proud of the care and attention AHES has paid towards this matter over the past four years – implementing classroom morning meetings, increasing recess to 30 minutes daily, and dedicating resources to social and emotional curriculum.
Another focus of the school board for the past few years has been the study of the feasibility of school regionalization. In May 2020, the Tri-District boards of education of Atlantic Highlands, Highlands and Henry Hudson were awarded a $65,000 Local Efficiency Achievement Program (LEAP) grant from the state of New Jersey to study the feasibility of consolidation. In summer 2021, the Tri-District boards of education moved forward with proposals in all five areas of the LEAP grant – legal, demographic, facilities, educational and financial analyses – with the work beginning in January 2022.
It is at this juncture, with analyses completion anticipated by May 2022, and as the Tri-District boards of education prepare to review the LEAP grant findings and make expertly-informed recommendations regarding the future of our schools, that I have chosen to step down as a board of education member.
You see, my spouse, Brian Dougherty, is a newly-elected Councilman in Atlantic Highlands, taking office January 2022. As elected officials, we both feel it is our responsibility to avoid even the appearance of any conflict of interest in our positions of public trust. It would seem that if Brian remains on the Council and I remained on the Board, we would both likely need to recuse ourselves from regionalization discussions and voting matters to avoid any semblance of conflict. And if we were both to recuse, I see this as a great disservice to the community that chose to elect us individually.
Eleanor Roosevelt once said “One’s philosophy is not best expressed in words; it is expressed in the choices one makes…” While my husband and I both have strong voices as elected individuals in our respective service positions, it became apparent to me that I would rather one of us participate in these salient conversations surrounding school regionalization than neither of us.
I thank the Atlantic Highlands community for the opportunity to serve as a member of your school board. I ask you all to please stay informed on the LEAP grant and the school board’s upcoming recommendations regarding regionalization by attending any of the Tri-District boards of education meetings or by visiting the Tri-District website at www.tridistrict.org.
While I step aside to allow others to have a voice, I strongly encourage you to use yours. Ask the AH Borough Council to allow the school boards and the experts they contracted to finish their work on the LEAP grant. You have elected a very capable AHES school board with extraordinary administrative and board leadership. Please be attentive to their non-partisan recommendations, as they are only interested in what is best for Atlantic Highland’s students, and our community as a whole.
With great appreciation,