Regionalization-You Have the RIGHT to Know ... NOW

For the second consecutive month, the Borough Council declined to pass a resolution which would ensure the state Education Commissioner could approve a request to let residents decide on a regionalization plan for the three schools and three school boards in Highlands and Atlantic Highlands, together with Sea Bright.

No one on Council responded favorably to Mayor Loretta Gluckstein’s request to hold a public meeting June 8 where residents could at least learn more about the two plans being considered for a regionalization plan for a K-12 district. Gluckstein also said it would be the first of at least two workshops on the school question, noting a second study commissioned with a state LEAP grant by the tri-board district is expected to be completed sometime in May and would also be the subject of a workshop.

When Gluckstein suggested June 8 as a possible date for the first meeting, Councilman Brian Dougherty promptly advised her there is a concert at the elementary school that evening. A check of the Atlantic Highlands school calendar on Facebook indicated there are no school activities in June before an Arts Show on June 15. There was a school concert on April 8, a Friday night.

Gluckstein noted the importance of letting the residents learn as much as possible about all aspects of the K-12 idea and be able to get the question on the November ballot for a decision. The Tri-district study was first thought to be completed in April, and when that did not happen, it is now anticipated to be completed in May. Setting a June date for a workshop would give residents information on the study already completed by the three towns involved and the BOE study.

Councilman Jon Crowley urged waiting for Dr. Tara Beams, superintendent of the Tri-district, to submit the delayed report before holding any town hall meetings and said A.H. shouldn’t “want to be like the other two towns” and hold a workshop without all of the information available. Councilman Steve Boracchia said “we don’t want to screw this up,” noting getting the information out correctly will enable everyone to learn.

Councilwoman Lori Hohenleitner said that no one on Council is opposed to a workshop, or the resolution calling for a referendum, but Crowley indicated it is important to get all the information out together and to have all the professionals present at the same time. The tri-district study has five different consultants involved, while the municipal study was completed by a single consultant group, Porzio. That group, completed the only regionalization proposal so far adopted in New Jersey. The Tri-district study, funded by the LEAP grant, is looking at regionalization of the three schools in Highlands and Atlantic Highlands being brought together as a K-12 district under a single board of education as opposed to the current three individual boards. There is also an alternative of regionalizing with other larger BOE’s in the area, or forming a new large school district across many shore BOEs.

Tracey Abby-White, a former teacher, board of education member and councilwoman, now Chairwoman of the A.H. Regionalization Study Committee appointed by Mayor Gluckstein, told the governing body that it is necessary to hold a town meeting if the question is going to be put to a vote by the residents, time is running short for that to happen. A referendum has to be forwarded to the state Commissioner of Education, who then has to review it and inform the municipalities of a decision. The question would then have to be negotiated by the three towns for the proper wording of the ballot and all of it must be done before the Aug. 15 deadline for adding it to the November ballot. “I’m afraid we’re running out of time,” she told the council. “All the money spent on all the studies will be for nothing. I hope things change.” She told council that if they do not set a date at their next meeting for within a short time after that, “then forget it.”

Residents at the meeting spoke both in favor of a decision for getting the question on the ballot and opposing it, with some saying it is a decision that should not be made by the council, nor by the voters, but only the elected boards of education. In what became heated exchanges and heightened emotionalism among residents and elected officials, Crowley charged that “Porzio is spinning a half-truth,” Hohenleitner saying it is not a political issue, council members ae all just “being thoughtful,” and Crowley reiterating it should be a school board decision.

Mark Fisher, who frequently brings background information from various sources he researches and asks council questions on the progress of numerous issues, asked why council could not act on approving a resolution now simply to provide a path to the administrative procedure in which the process could move forward.

Former Mayor Randy LeGrice questioned why school boards that frequently do not even attract sufficient candidates for office to fill places on the ballot let alone offer a choice to residents should be the right group to make the decision on a K-12 district.

Karen Masina, who is president of the Atlantic Highlands school board, said she was speaking as a board member and with board authority and chided the governing body because all the discussion is “only hurting our children. The arguments have to stop….I’m disgusted…I’m here for the children.,”

In the end, council took no action, no tentative date was set, and no date was given as to when the tri-district study due originally in March would be completed.


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