BARNEGAT, NJ -   Last year, the Barnegat Township School District delayed plans to reconfigure the district by grade levels.  Although some understood the benefits of change, others voiced strong opposition.  In a report released today, Superintendent of Schools Dr. Brian Latwis outlines the options under consideration for the 2020-2021 school year.

At the most recent Board of Education meeting, parents came to express their concerns regarding what has remained a controversial issue. While some would like things to stay as they are, others are still not keen on the prospect of reconfiguration. Among other things, they see it as a loss of neighborhood schools.

“We have made changes within the curriculum already,” said Latwis. “We’ve also embraced a data-driven culture that helps us collect and analyze information about student achievement.”

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Latwis cited other changes within the district that have already added to educational improvements. Among them is the addition of two master teachers, who serve as coaches. This concept is an integral component of the push towards reconfiguration.

“Collaboration works well,” Latwis emphasized. “Teachers won’t have to worry that a supervisor is the one providing the help.”

In a letter directed to Barnegat families, Latwis provides parents with research and analysis comparing options for change. The proposal will be presented at a Board of Education special meeting on Tuesday, February 18, 2020.  After the presentation, Board members will cast their votes based on the alternatives.

“One of the reasons for the change is that we need our schools to be in state compliance,” shared Latwis. “We also truly want what is best for the students.”

Inequity in class size and student achievement are the predominant drivers suggesting the need for change. The school district has analyzed redrawing district lines as a solution and keeping four separate four PreK-5 schools.  In addition to redistricting, the following are options compared and contrasted in the proposal:

Option 1: Grade Banding (Preschool/K, 1-2, 3-4, 5-6)

Option 2: Sister Schools (Two Preschool-grade 2 Schools and Two grade 3-5 Schools)

Option 3: Grade Banding (Preschool, K-2, 3-4, 5-6)

Option 4: Redistricting (Four PreK-5 schools)

According to the report, the school district retained an expert to conduct enrollment and demographic studies, including a transportation analysis for each model.  Site visits and/or phone interviews were conducted with several high performing schools to discuss strategies for student achievement. The study included a review of internal data as well concerning harassment, intimidation and bullying, discipline and academics.

The Budget Comparison for School Realignment considers grade banding, redistricting, and sister schools as options.  According to the breakdown, the creation of sister schools appears to be the most expensive option. This would require additional costs as far as transportation bus and transportation personnel costs.

According to the comparative cost analysis, the least expensive option is grade banding. This would forego the need for hiring as many as 13 staff members, as well as an additional data coach.

Latwis says that grade banding would free up 13-16 positions and avoid the need for new hires. However, redistricting does not allow that flexibility.  With redistricting, the proposed needed staff would be budgeted at an increased cost of $890K.  The sister school option would free up three positions.

Parents have cited concerns regarding transitions and social-emotional support as a concern in any district restructuring plans. The proposal analyzes the impact of change under the available options, as well as the availability of counseling staff.

If the grade banding plan goes into effect, a single bus would most likely drop students off at multiple schools. Students in the K-4 band would ride together, while those in 5-6 and 7-8 would have separate buses.

While redistricting maintains neighborhood schools and the least transitions between buildings, the report points out its negatives. For one, redrawn lines will still impact 75% of students in the district.  This plan will not free up positions and substantially increase the budget.  It also keeps sixth graders in the middle school.

The sister school concept has one more transition than redistricting and one less than grade banding.  While it does allow for some increased collaboration, it won’t be as accessible as it is under the grade band model. The major problem is the increased cost related to transportation.  Sixth graders remain in the middle school.

According to the proposal, neither redistricting nor the sister school concept represents permanent solutions. The administration lists this as a factor supporting grade banding. Class sizes can adjust with population increases and decreases.

Latwis acknowledges that grade banding means the loss of neighborhood schools and increased transitions. The report not only defines grade banding as the most “fiscally responsible” but also points out the educational benefits of teachers, school counselors, BSI, support staff and administrators becoming experts in their grade bands.

In the end, the cost of educating tomorrow’s leaders is priceless. The Board of Education will need to weigh options after analyzing the proposal submitted by the administration. Could it mean more taxes?  Technically, using banked cap means taking advantage of taxes that were never allocated in the past. 

“At the end of the day, reconfiguration is the option that allows us to do best for the students,” concluded Latwis. “It is also the one that presents as budget neutral.”

Anyone with an interest in reading the complete analysis and proposal presented by the administration can find it on the school district website.