Education

School Merger Report Deserves an "F" says Roxbury/Mt. Arlington Study Chief

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Craig Heard
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ROXBURY, NJ – A report that says Roxbury homeowners would see reduced taxes if township schools merged with those of Mount Arlington is superficial and “grossly inaccurate,” says the chairman of a panel studying consolidation of the municipalities.

The report, prepared by Morris County Interim Executive County Superintendent of Schools Roger Jinks, says Roxbury taxpayers would see their school taxes decrease about $215 per year after the consolidation.

Mount Arlington residents wouldn’t fare as well, says the report, stating Mount Arlington homeowners’ annual school tax bill would jump by nearly $900 per year if the consolidation took place. The report was submitted earlier in March to the Roxbury/Mount Arlington Study Commission, a panel studying the pros and cons of consolidating the two municipalities or some of their services.

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In an interview, commission chairman Craig Heard discounted the validity of the Jinks report and said it's essentially half-baked.

“It’s grossly inaccurate from the perspective that it does not evaluate the benefits of consolidating the schools, should there be a recommendation to do so by the commission,” Heard said.

For example, Jinks failed to analyze the cost savings of consolidating Roxbury and Mount Arlington school bus systems, school boards, school administrations and more areas of overlap. “There would be one school board, not two, and there wouldn’t be six principals, there would be four,” Heard said, noting Jinks never broached these toics. “It was extremely disappointing to see this report.”
The state Department of Education had Jinks write the report only after it repeatedly rebuffed the commission’s requests for the study, Heard said. The department eventually was forced to come up with a report – required by state law - after Heard testified a year ago before the state Legislature.

The study commission is preparing to send a letter that takes Jinks and the state to task over the report. “Members of the Commission have met and discussed the report submitted and are very disappointed with the lack of analysis provided … many factors were not considered in the report,” begins the letter.

Heard said he is upset Jinks never gave the commission a draft of his report before sending it not only to the commission but also to the mayors and school superintendents of both towns.

In his report, Jinks says that even though Mount Arlington school tax bills would be $879 more each year under consolidation, taxpayers in the borough would still be forking over fewer dollars per year than the average Roxbury taxpayer. He found that Roxbury people would pay an average of $5,436 per year in school taxes after a merger while Mount Arlington folks would pay an average of $5,102 per year.

“Of note is the determination that despite such a large change in average taxes, Mount Arlington Borough would still pay less school taxes on average than Roxbury Township,” says the report.

It says Mount Arlington taxpayers currently shell out an average of about $4,200 in annual school taxes while Roxbury taxpayers dole out about $5,600 per year on average. That’s because Roxbury’s school tax rate is 1.69 percent while Mount Arlington’s is 1.35 percent and because the average Mount Arlington’s average residence is assessed at about $313,000 compared to the average Roxbury assessment of about $333,500, says the report.

“Upon consolidation of the two municipalities, the school districts would become a single unified K-12 school district,” wrote Jinks. “The ratables would be combined for the two current municipalities, upon which a single tax rate and levy would be applied. Based on current values, Mount Arlington’s total levy share is smaller than their share of equalized valuation.”

Heard insisted Jinks’ number are meaningless. “This report doesn’t even follow the statute of what was required: A comprehensive, detailed report,” he said. “What Roger put together was extremely disappointing.”

Jinks could not be reached for comment on Friday.

Heard said the commission has been gathering its own data, not only about impacts of consolidation to the towns’ school systems but also to other governmental functions including police.

“We will soon be able to sit down and look at the benchmarks and put them side-by-side, Roxbury and Mt. Arlington - to start to look at an analysis toward what we would or wouldn’t recommend,” he said. “We are not there yet, but we did put out an RFP (request for proposals) for consultants to study our final draft conclusions of what we’ve discovered so far.”

The commission was formed in 2015.

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