NEWTON, NJ—With the hopes of spreading the word and being the first to show initiative and backing for a consolidated school system in Sussex County, the Newton Town Council, after much discussion, passed a resolution supporting a consolidated school system within the Sussex County area.
Mayor Wayne Levante, who took the chair a mere six weeks ago, has already begun making headway on his agenda of initiatives aimed at improving Newton for business owners and residents alike.
Discussions between Deputy Mayor Kevin Elvidge, Town Manager Thomas Russo Jr. and Levante, a resolution to show support of a consolidated school system emerged, according to Levante.
“I spoke out to about 40 teachers about this topic at an event, as well as [Newton Board of Education President] Stella Dunn and her reply was ‘It’s never going to happen,’“ Levante said. “Think about it, Superintendents and Business Administrators are not going to willingly advocate for something that could cause them to lose their jobs if supported, so we need to think in the best interest of the town and the taxpayers and help them out.”
Some key points of the resolution are as follows:
- The school systems in the state of New Jersey are largely independently run and are funded by the taxpayers, resulting in increasing property taxes to New Jersey residents
- The Town Council appreciates the importance of the education system, public schools, and teachers, but also recognizes that increased property taxes are driving residents out of Sussex County and Newton
- Student enrollment in Sussex County schools is decreasing, yet per-pupil costs continue to rise, resulting in higher property taxes to Sussex County residents
- A consolidated County school system would result in significant savings to the taxpayers of Sussex County, via less administrative staff and other personnel, and ultimately lower property taxes
- The Town Council proposes the following structure for a consolidated school system: one County Superintendent, One County Business Office, and all schools within the County overseen by the County Office
Councilwoman Sandra Diglio, and Councilwoman Helen LeFois, were concerned about the process leading to the resolution made its way onto the agenda. While they were supportive of the resolution they both expressed reservations that it was not something on their radar prior to receiving the agenda packet on Friday for review.
Diglio also questioned doing something similar to this at the state level versus the county level. Councilman Dan Flynn commented that while this idea could take five to 10 years at just the county level to actually come about, it could take far longer if it was to be considered at the state level.
During the public comment portion of the meeting, Newton High School Junior, Kyle Penny, spoke on the resolution asking if the council had thought about the economic differences among the schools that would be under one superintendent. She also asked where whould students turn to if there was an issue within the school.
Levante explained, while there would be multiple schools under one superintendent, each school would still have their principals, boards of education and PTO programs in place. Should an issue arise within the school itself, they would still be handling such issues, he said.
Resolution#160-2017 was unanimously approved after some discussion by the council. LeFois maintained her concern about the lack of feedback sought from the whole council prior to it appearing on the agenda.
Levante responded to LeFois’ concerns. He said, as stated in the resolution, once approved a copy of the resolution will be distributed to the clerks of all Sussex County municipalities, the State Legislators that represent the Town of Newton, the Newton Board of Education, the Sussex County Superintendent of Schools, the New Jersey League of Municipalities, and the New Jersey Governor’s Office, in hopes that others will feel the same way as the Town of Newton and move this forward.