SUSSEX COUNTY, NJ- A report from a Ball State University researcher shows that New Jersey taxpayers are funding 349 school districts in the state with each having less than 2,000 students. If these school districts were consolidated with neighboring districts, the estimated savings could range from $2.6 to $6.1 million in the six counties with populations below 250,000.
“New Jersey has a lot of school districts and a complex district organizational structure,” said Dagney Faulk, Ph.D, of the Center for Business and Economic Research at Ball State University in Muncie, Ind. “The largest potential savings could come from consolidating very small districts. There are potentially millions of dollars of savings from reducing the number of school districts in New Jersey.”
Faulk reported her study findings on May 2 at the fourth-annual consolidation summit, sponsored by Courage to Connect New Jersey, a non-profit, non-partisan organization that helps government and citizens through the consolidation process.
Faulk said New Jersey school children could benefit from consolidated school districts because by accessing many services and resources offered by larger districts, such as more specialized programs and staff. Meanwhile, she said, the districts could benefit with stronger negotiated price reductions, such as buying in bulk, as well as implementing curriculum and management innovation at a lower cost. Her study focus is Cape May, Cumberland, Hunterdon, Salem, Sussex and Warren counties.
Gina Genovese, executive director of Courage to Connect New Jersey, said the two leading reasons why voters in three Hunterdon County towns overwhelmingly supported consolidation last year was the opportunity to improve efficiency and potentially save taxpayer money, while enriching the curriculum for the students.
The towns of Lambertville, Stockton and West Amwell are now dissolving their local school districts and creating a grades K-12 South Hunterdon school district, beginning July 1.
Derek Roseman, a member of the newly-created South Hunterdon Joint Board of Education, told seminar attendees that the public needs to understand that consolidation does not equate to an immediate tax decrease. “This is not about thinking there will suddenly be manna from heaven,” he said. “But, for consolidated school districts, instead of perhaps a 10 percent tax increase, maybe there will only be a two percent tax increase. Regionalization is about giving us greater financial certainty as we move forward as a community.”
Vito Gagliardi, Esq., special counsel to South Hunterdon for regionalization, told attendees the biggest challenge to consolidation is at the outset, encouraging elected officials to work together and to embrace the potential for change. “South Hunterdon succeeded because even the regional district members had the courage to think that regionalizing our schools is good for us and the people living in the local school district,” he said. “It allowed citizens to be able to look at regionalization with an open mind and consider it.”
To learn more about the Ball State report, visit www.CouragetoConnectNJ.org