LAMBERTVILLE — About eight weeks remain before voters here, in Stockton and in West Amwell decide whether the four existing school districts that govern the education of their children are dissolved and replaced by a single district covering pre-K to grade 12.
Sept. 24 is the date assigned by the state for the two-question referendum. The vote is six years in the making, according to Gina Genovese, former mayor of Long Hill Township in Morris County and executive director of the advocacy group Courage to Connect NJ/ The group seeks to merge fire districts, school districts and municipal governments. Courage to Connect is the group that helped shepherd last year’s merger of Princeton and Princeton Township. “There’s been an enormous amount of work by the four school boards,” Genovese said today, July 29. The state Department of Education has put “an amazing amount of time to this,” as well, she said. “This has never been done.” “This is a seminal moment in New Jersey.” About 60 people attended the two-hour-long Lambertville town hall meeting, which was led by Dan Seiter, president of the high school board. That’s about how many attended a similar town hall in West Amwell in late June, according to Seiter. A smaller group attended the Stockton town hall, but that meeting lasted nearly three hours, Seiter said, with questions touching a variety of areas such as educational benefits, financial impact and facilities. If the vote fails, Genovese said, it could be six years before the question comes up again elsewhere. “But if it’s a success, it would happen again in three years,” she said. There are 565 municipalities in New Jersey and 599 school districts. Courage to Connect and many politicians think taxpayers would benefit if many of them would merge, as did Princeton and Princeton Township last year. Former Princeton Township Mayor and Courage to Connect board member Chad Goerner told the Lambertville town hall that he was impressed with the work of Seiter’s consolidation committee. “They articulated the benefits of the merger, not just the financials, but also how unifying the curriculum will benefit delivery of education to the region’s students,” Goerner said after the meeting. But Goerner expressed concern that “the referendum occurs in a kind of obscure time period.”