MOUNTAINSIDE, NJ – With the Berkeley Heights Board of Education's recent approval of a renegotiated send/receive agreement, new terms are now in place by which the Mountainside School District will be sending its students in grades nine through 12 to Governor Livingston High School.
The board of education in Mountainside approved the same contact earlier this year, in midsummer.
The Mountainside district operates schools that go up to only eighth grade – Beechwood School with grades pre-kindergarten through second grade, and Deerfield School with grades three to eight.
High school students who live in Mountainside attend Governor Livingston High School in the Berkeley Heights Public School District.
The new contract runs for five years from July 1, 2017 through June 30, 2022, with a renewal option for an additional five years.
Mountainside School Business Administrator Eric Larson recently delivered a presentation to the full Mountainside Board of Education about the benefits of the renegotiated pact.
The new agreement, which is 13 pages in length compared the current seven-page contract that expires June 30, is the culmination of a process that started about two years ago, Larson said at the last board meeting,
“It was a process that ended up with the very good result for Mountainside, and a very fair agreement overall,” he said.
A financial benefit of the new contract from Mountainside's point of view “is primarily predictability, which is what we were looking for,” Larson said. “As the business administrator, predictability is my biggest concern.”
For the past several years under the current accord, “the financial arrangement led to very unpredictable costs,” he said.
The business administrator explained that 30 percent of the Mountainside School District annual budget goes to paying the Berkeley Heights district for sending about 300 students who live in Mountainside to Governor Livingston High School.
The per-student tuition cost (about $14,500 for the 2014-15 school year) that Berkeley Heights charges Mountainside has “fluctuated significantly, greatly exceeding the 2-percent cap limit,” Larson said. “We can only increase our tax levy 2 percent every year, which is the same for all districts in the state.”
“There is very little flexibility with the budget in public education,” he said. “The only way you can fund an increase in costs, unfortunately, is by decreasing costs somewhere else. That somewhere else for Mountainside is the K-8 district.”
“So when costs increase on the high school side, it has a very direct negative impact on the program that goes on for K-8,” Larson said.
The tuition rate fluctuation occurred because the rate estimated by Mountainside when budgeting for an upcoming school year has to be adjusted, usually upwards, two years later when the actual or “certified” tuition rate is determined.
Language in the new send/receive agreement now limits a per-pupil tuition rate not to exceed a 2-percent increase per year.
“Now, you have five years essentially of known rates,” Larson said. “The agreement also has an auto renewal in it for an additional five years.”
Board of Education Member Dante Gioia praised the new send/receive contact.
“This is definitely a win for Mountainside,” Gioia said.
Board Member Cathy Jakositz applauded the contract negotiating team, which included three school board members – Gioia, Christopher Minks and Board of Education President James Ruban.