MILLBURN, NJ - After months of intense debate, the Millburn Board of Education Thursday night adopted a redistricting plan that will affect some elementary school students from Glenwood and Hartshorn schools.
The board vote was 7 to 2, with members Lise Chapman and Debra Fox dissenting. Members of the property committee—which recommended the plan and included chairman Eric Siegel, Scott Kamber and Rona Wenik—endorsed the plan, as did members Mark Zucker, Samuel Levy, Jeffrey Waters and Michael Birnberg.
More than 50 members of the community turned out for a special meeting at the Board of Education building, but the board did not hear comments from the public. Instead, they asked questions of Superintendent Richard Brodow, read a resolution enacting the redistricting and made individual statements. After everyone except Birnberg had given their opinions, the vote was taken approximately an hour and a half into the session.
Kamber summarized the general feeling of those who supported the plan when he said, "Sometimes solutions need to be painful. This plan is the least painful plan I've seen."
The plan, designed to relieve overcrowding at Glenwood School, will move 58 students from Glenwood to Hartshorn in September. In addition, nine students from Glenwood who live in an area bordered by Old Short Hills Road and Brookside Drive will move to Deerfield School.
Another 30 students will move from Hartshorn to Deerfield. Those students live near Parsonage Hill Road, which will become a natural boundary for the two schools' zones.
The district will offer a system of grandfathering in which fourth and fifth grade students at Glenwood and Hartshorn schools can be exempted from moving, provided the parents provide transportation. The courtesy will also be extended for one year to siblings.
Grandfathering would apply to 14 students and seven siblings.
Brodow said he and other administrators will begin implementing the plan immediately after Memorial Day. He will write a letter to parents of affected children, as will principals of the schools the students are leaving. School and medical records will have to be transferred and funding rearranged.
The superintendent said he will also provide parent teacher organizations at each school with the names of incoming students. Parents of those children eligible for grandfathering will be given a week to decide if they want their child to remain in his or her current school.
"The most important thing is that parents don't transfer their angst to their children," he advised.
The sharpest criticism of the proposed plan came from Chapman, who questioned the urgency of the need to relieve overcrowding and whether a safety issue is involved. She also asked if administrators had heard a specific plan from Glenwood's principal, David Jasin, for how the space that is being freed up will be used.
In her comments before the vote, Chapman urged the board to take more time to develop a more comprehensive plan that would allow administrators to get rid of two trailers that now house classrooms. The trailers, originally meant to be temporary, have been in use since 2002 and must be renewed on a yearly basis.
Chapman's remarks brought rebuttals from several others. Waters said he does not believe it's the role of a board member to review specific plans for use of facilities, pointing out there's only one employee reports to the board, the superintendent.
Kamber also said the board's mandate is to hire and keep tabs on the superintendent, who in turn is responsible for the direct running of the schools.
He attributed the current situation to a bond referendum in 2002 that authorized building at each of the district's elementary schools without regard for need. As a result, some of the schools, especially Deerfield, now have larger facilities that are not filled.
He also praised the proposed plan as the best solution for maintaining the concept of neighborhood schools.
Fox, who cast the other no vote, evoked laughter from the assembled crowd when she said, "While normally being a board member is a blast, the past few weeks haven't been fun."
She went on to say that although she believes the children will be ok, "It's my opinion that it's too late in the game for this."
In casting his vote, Levy said, "This board can make a pledge to remove the trailers."
Ross Haber, the consultant who developed the plan adopted last night, said in his presentation earlier this month that the redistricting would affect only 5 percent of the total school population and characterized the plan as small.