Milltown, Spotswood districts discuss further collaboration

Potential consolidation of schools is part of larger, ongoing discussion

Staff Writer

A t the second of three bi-district meetings during the 2012-13 school year, Milltown and Spotswood school officials discussed further joint efforts.

The potential collaborative endeavors discussed at the Feb. 12 meeting included curriculum alignment, shared-service ideas and ways to secure grant funding. School officials also reviewed information regarding teacher-evaluation changes and school security protocols in each district.

Through the subject of school consolidation was brought up, officials tempered expectations. Currently, Milltown’s K-8 students are educated in the borough’s two schools, but its high school students are sent to Spotswood on a tuition basis. Spotswood Board of Education member William Loschiavo initiated the discussion on further consolidation, saying that in his opinion the current model is not optimal.

Other board members and officials were more cautious.

Milltown Superintendent of Schools Laura Madison said there would be tax ramifications to shared personnel, since contracts and salary guides would have to be aligned to whichever district’s is higher.

“At this point in time your salary guide is more lucrative than ours, so we would have to align, and that would be a burden on the taxpayers here in Milltown,” Madison said. “We have different tax rates in the two towns.”

“We did a quick and dirty analysis into this a couple of years ago and we found that the tax burden would be at a tremendous level here in Milltown, so that’s why we kind of backed off a little bit,” she added, while still leaving the door open to further discussions.

“It is a bigger conversation. Is it something that we should look at? Certainly,” she said. “I think the [business administrators] should be talking to the county executive [superintendent] about those kinds of things and look collectively at other ways we can share services.”

Donna Faulkenberry, president of the Spotswood Board of Education, agreed.

“It’s a huge topic,” Faulkenberry said, adding that she hopes to see the districts continue to collaborate.

“It makes sense to have a common experience K-8, and when they meet each other in ninth grade their skill sets [are the same], and it certainly makes sense from a taxpayer standpoint,” she said.

Milltown Board of Education Vice President Bill Petscavage said another issue would be the number of representatives from each community on a new board of education, created by a consolidation.

School officials briefly discussed the possibility of establishing a committee to explore the matter further.

The two boards are scheduled to hold another bi-district meeting in May.

After the meeting, Madison said there have not been significant discussions on potential consolidation since 2009, when the state was pushing for districts to merge.

Since superintendents, such as Madison, in K-8 districts like Milltown often serve as a building principal, there would not have been an immediate cost savings, she said. By law, each school has to have a principal and the salary of the superintendent/principal could only be frozen, not reduced, she said.

Madison said that no immediate savings were realized when the state ordered Helmetta and Spotswood to become a regional district in 2009.

According to previous Greater Media Newspapers coverage, the budget deficit in the 2010-11 Spotswood school budget widened due to the state-imposed consolidation, as a change in the funding formula resulted in Spotswood getting nearly $800,000 less from Helmetta than it would have received under the former tuitionbased formula.

“It’s a very complex issue,” Madison said. “If it were easy school districts would have done it already.”

She expressed hope the districts would explore further collaboration, lauding the quality of education received by Milltown students at Spotswood High School.

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