Consolidation of schools has become a major talking point in New Jersey. Several leaders and researchers have weighed in on the pros and cons. The topic is one which should be explored in our district, but it is not a one-size fits all solution to fixing the cost of living problem here in New Jersey, nor would it necessarily save many residents money in any immediate sense.

Consolidation proposals need to be carefully considered and are not easily implemented as there are many roadblocks that must be taken into account. We should explore consolidation of schools among certain municipalities when facilities are in close geographic proximity, share similar town identities, and when there would be a significant savings and educational benefit from doing so.

Transition takes time to be done well, as can be seen by the recent Hunterdon County consolidation, which began in 2008 and has just recently been completed. Often, transition costs can outweigh savings for more than ten years after a consolidation has been decided upon. To offset these costs, states offer incentives to school districts choosing to consolidate, such as an increase in aid during the transition period. Governor Christie hasn’t offered these types of incentives.

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Healthy public school systems are the result of partnership with the state combined with a thriving community and proactive governing municipality. Consolidation often only benefits small rural townships on a hyperlocal basis, and does not necessarily affect the state as a whole, another reason Christie may be all talk on this matter. However, the idea of consolidation should not only be considered for the role it plays in cost savings, but with the goal of a better educational experience for all students, where unification of school districts would pave the way for a more consistent K-12 education.

Reality dictates these consolidation conversations, but another conversation would be ways to boost enrollment. A more ambitious approach is to entice people to move to our area through the addition of small and mid-sized businesses throughout our region, by being more inviting to business owners and entrepreneurs. Adding transportation options will encourage younger families to start their lives here. After all, this is how this area became popular to begin with.

Areas such as the Hudson Valley and suburbs of Philadelphia have remained relevant by adding transportation options to maintain their population. Enlivening our main streets and bringing up robust downtown areas are also keys to our progress. These ideas need forward thinking leaders who will examine all the solutions for cost savings, but also welcome growth and development as a means towards greater success in our beautiful corner of New Jersey.

We have been in a leadership vacuum for too long. For all of Christie’s complaining, he has not passed legislation to incentivize districts to consolidate. In addition, our current Assemblyman has consistently voted “NO” to an initiative in the assembly that “Increases flexibility, clarity, and available tools of optional municipal consolidation process.​”

As your Assemblywomen, Gina and I will be leaders who take responsibility and offer a hands on approach. It is time to listen to new voices who want positive change in Northwestern New Jersey, who take responsibility, and are willing to do the hard work necessary to get the job done.

Kate Matteson

Democratic Candidate for State Assembly

Sources: “School District Consolidation: The Benefits and Costs,” Duncombe and Yinger “Communities Cling to Local Schools Despite State Incentives,” Clark “Checking in on the South Hunterdon School Consolidation,” Mooney New Jersey Senate Bill S690/Assembly Bill A292