MONTVILLE, NJ – Reconfiguring the Hilldale Elementary School media center is the final decision reached by the Demographic Study Task Force in order to solve the overcrowding problem at that school.

In September 2016, the Montville Township Board of Education was presented with results of a demographic study  conducted in April of 2016 by Statistical Forecasting LLC, which found that enrollment will decline by an average of seven percent over the next five years.

However, Hilldale Elementary School has faced overcrowding problems which resulted in the board approving Superintendent of Schools René Rovtar’s recommendation to place all new students and all kindergarten students from the Rachel Gardens apartment development in Pine Brook at Woodmont Elementary School for the ’16-’17 school year. This solution was acknowledged as temporary, pending the information from the demographic study.

Sign Up for E-News

According to the final report released by the district, one classroom is required by Hilldale, but could be used for two purposes. Teaching is currently taking place in the hallway, which does not meet code for QSAC approval. QSAC is the monitoring and evaluation system for public school districts set up by the New Jersey Department of Education.

The Demographic Study Task Force met five times, Rovtar said at the Jan. 17 Montville Township Board of Education meeting, and was composed of parents, teachers and administrators.

Rovtar enumerated the many possible solutions to the overcrowding that were considered. The possibilities included:

  • Sending Longview neighborhood students to another school
  • Splitting up grades K-2 and 3-5
  • Splitting Rachel Gardens students among three schools
  • Placing a trailer at Hilldale
  • Continuing to send new Rachel Gardens students to Woodmont
  • Re-examining policies on class size
  • Provide a full time music teacher to Hilldale to reduce the number of music classrooms needed
  • Reconfiguring the media center

Rovtar said the media center is not used to its fullest extent, so the reconfiguration was the best solution. The result will be two small group instructional spaces, Rovtar said. The board approved the measure and the applicable architecture fees. Construction will take place during the summer so as to not disturb student instruction, Rovtar said.

Board Member Michael Palma praised the measure as the least disruptive of the ideas, and called the architectural fees “money well spent.”

Board Member David Modrak, who was a member of the task force, said that the task force worked together “easily and respectfully.”

Declining Enrollment

With regard to declining enrollment as it trickles upwards to the high school level, Rovtar said that administration is not worried about Lazar Middle School, but high school programs may be impacted during the 2018-2019 year. Strategies to deal with the impact include “recruiting” students to “undersubscribed” programs, and revisiting the curriculum, perhaps offering classes in alternating years. She indicated that this is an ongoing process that will be monitored.

The report the district received from Statistical Forecasting LLC indicates that the district will lose 365 students by the 2020-2021 school year. Cedar Hill’s enrollment is projected to decline the most. The declining enrollment will have minimal impact on the high school over the next two years, according to the report.

To read the report, click Demographic Study Task Force.

Referendum

School administration is seeking approval for major construction projects that cannot be tackled by the regular budget due to the two percent cap.

“Although the district spends approximately $1 million to maintain our facilities, this funding falls short of meeting our needs and maintaining our aging facilities,” District Administrator James Tevis explained in his presentation to the board and public.

When the district examined what improvements were needed for its facilities, more than $56 million worth of projects were identified, he said. However, the district wishes to place only $17.5 million in projects before residents in a series of three referendum questions late in September.

Question one asks for just over $11 million for roof replacements, HVAC controls, restroom and media center renovations. All projects are across all schools, aside from the high school media center, which recently underwent a $1.5 million renovation.

Question two requests $3 million for gymnasium renovations, and question three requests $3.4 million for air conditioning in the schools. The schools do have some air conditioning but not all classrooms are air conditioned. Tevis did not indicate what the cost to individual tax payers would be.

Tevis said that current conditions are favorable for the 15-25 year bond since the state is offering to pay up to 40% of the cost in aid, construction costs are favorable, and interest rates are favorable.

Board President Matthew Kayne said that repair and energy expenses can be reduced by the investment. He also reminded the public of the 2009-2010 school year when the district lost $3.2 million in state aid. The township further reduced the budget by $1 million when the budget was voted down by residents. State aid in subsequent years was reduced to $31,000, he said, and all told since then, a little more than $15.5 million.

“This district has been financially very responsible all through these years,” Kayne said. “We’ve run the budget on less. We’ve done everything we can with a two percent cap. At a time when we’re in need, this is something that makes sense now. Hopefully word will get out about the value of these projects.”

Board Vice President Carmela Novi said that what the public may not realize is that while the board operates under a two percent cap, the companies the board works with do not.

“There was a year when our insurance premiums went up 28%,” Novi said. “When that happens, we have to find money somewhere else. Sometimes what looks good on the legislative floor and is signed by the governor, in practice, and in domino effect, provides a level of challenges that requires balances not just in the short term but the long term issues that [also] come up.”

There will be a special meeting to reveal the details of the referendum proposed by school administration on Tuesday, Jan. 24 at 7:30 p.m. It will be held at the Montville Township High School media center.