MIDDLETOWN, NJ: Middletown Township residents, particularly those from the Port Monmouth section of town, once again energetically voiced their strong opinions against the proposal to close Port Monmouth Elementary School during the March 4th Middletown Township Board of Education meeting at Middletown High School North.  

The meeting, originally planned to be a budget meeting, did include some budget related discussions and information; but ended up mostly featuring additional Port Monmouth parents either expressing their opposition to the potential school closure, or following up on their comments from the Feb 26th meeting. 

The potential school closure is a proposal put forth by Middletown Township public schools Superintendent William O. George, in which the Port Monmouth and New Monmouth Elementary Schools will merge into one larger elementary school - a process commonly referred to as consolidation. As part of this consolidation, Port Monmouth’s Elementary School student population would be absorbed with New Monmouth Elementary School.

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There was a special public information meeting about the proposal on Feb. 24th, as well as extensive discussion of this on the Feb. 26th Board of Ed meeting, both of which can be viewed by online video on the Middletown Twp School District website

At the beginning of the meeting, Board Member Joan Minnues asked the district administration about some email communications that Board President Pamela Rogers sent to some Middletown parents regarding questions on the concrete logistics of implementing the proposal, without the knowledge of the rest of the Board. 

“I understand that the Board President has the right to speak for the Board, but the information that’s going out (that’s) information that I as a Board member do not have (yet),” Minnues said. “So how is that fair that I (and the rest of the Board) do not have that information?”

Amy Doherty, the District Superintendent, then began to explain some of the budget items on the agenda.  These items were essentially ways the district hoped to cover an expected budget shortfall of about $2.52 million shortfall; which besides the potential Port Monmouth school closure, would include deferring new curriculum material adoptions and equipment replacements, an expected lower increase in the cost of employee health insurance, and cutting back on elementary school field trips to Poricy Park. 

Doherty also explained that the $50 million stabilization aid proposal by Gov. Murphy involves an application process that Middletown would try to enter, but added that potential grant monies from the program would be spread across many school districts, and that Middletown was not even guaranteed to actually receive these monies from the program. 

“It’s on a case by case basis,” Doherty said “Gov Murphy explained it as that.”

Following this was the public comment period.  The first to speak was a Port Monmouth resident named Carol, who said that the district should be finding other ways to save money rather than closing Port Monmouth School. 

“My question is why we haven’t started looking at administration (costs) yet – because if you do, you’ll add up $2 million very quickly,” Carol said. “You haven’t actually done your homework, because there are places to cut, and you haven’t done it.”

The next person to speak was Erin Winters, who said she doubted that Title I funding for a combined New Monmouth/Port Monmouth Elementary School would fulfill all the district’s hopes for such funding (at least in the short term), given that any application for school wide Title I status requires an extensive planning process that normally takes about a year if the district decides to pursue it; and that the application would be for a combined school that hasn’t actually been established yet.

“How can we plan for school wide funding and anticipate the needs of a consolidated New Monmouth/Port Monmouth school when that population has yet to coexist?,” Winters said – adding that if the prospect of additional Title I funding is one of the reasons behind the proposed Port Monmouth School closure, that the district might later regret it.  “It feels like we’re rushing into a decision.”

Afterward, a Middletown Township Public Schools crossing guard named Tracy mentioned that merging the two schools may create a potential traffic safety hazard for children.

“You have no idea what you’re up against,” Tracy said. “God forbid something happens to one of those kids. How is that going to fit into your budget.” – which was followed with a round of applause from the audience.

Michele Pitzer said that there were more than 4,000 signatures gathered on a Change.org petition to prevent Port Monmouth School from closing 

“Please vote no (on closing Port Monmouth School),” Pitzer urged the Board members.

Following the public comment period, District Business Administrator Amy Doherty said that the district was basing its projections for future absorption capacity of New Monmouth School on demographic study done a few years ago, which she said could still be reliable despite it not being brand new. 

“The enrollment numbers are below what the demographer had even predicted, so we don’t feel that those numbers have proved to be something we can’t rely on,” Doherty said.

District Director of Staff and Special Projects Jessica Alfone then mentioned that Title I funding is “targeted status” in all of the elementary schools (including New Monmouth and Port Monmouth schools), meaning that they can only be spent on lower-income students, not the school overall – and that Ocean Avenue School is the only that might achieve “school-wide Title I status” in the near future. 

Title I is a federally-funding education grant given to help schools with the educational needs and services of lower-income students.

Following this, the meeting was adjourned, after which Winters agreed to provide additional comment to TAPinto on how Title I funding functions. 

“The student to teacher ratio that they claim will be lowered in Title I schools with the use of co-teaching (meaning having more than one teacher per classroom) will only happen during part of the school day, and will not lighten the classroom teacher’s responsibilities for the rest of the school day,” Winters said.