As New Jersey schools prepare to open, another year of challenges for each and every school board lies ahead. Taxpayer money is tighter than ever; the 2 percent state-mandated spending cap has already forced many schools to eliminate gifted and talented programs, languages, elective classes and extracurricular activities. Many of our 602 separate school districts can no longer provide cost-effective and efficient management of our schools.
But there is one grassroots effort in New Jersey that is trying to find ways to better serve their students and ensure a more sustainable future for their schools. Next month, the voters of Lambertville, Stockton and West Amwell in Hunterdon County will decide whether they want to dissolve the existing South Hunterdon Regional High School and authorize the creation of a regional pre-K-to-12 district. South Hunterdon’s journey began six years ago. All four school boards, facing ever-increasing costs, began investigating the advantages to students and taxpayers of becoming a single school district, with one administration and a unified curriculum. They formed the South Hunterdon Regionalization Committee to study the benefits of combining the educational resources of three pre-K-to-6 school districts and one 7-12 district. Voters became part of the collaborative effort by approving a referendum to fund a study to assess potential educational improvements and administrative efficiencies. Following the study, all four school boards, the regionalization committee, three local governing bodies, the Hunterdon County freeholders, four school administrators and the state Department of Education unanimously endorsed the dissolution of all four school districts and creation of one new regional school district. Some stakeholders are supporting the elimination of their own jobs or elected positions for the sake of the children and taxpayers. If the South Hunterdon initiative is successful, we will reduce the number of statewide school districts by three. This is a critical first step to controlling public education spending in New Jersey. But most important, New Jersey does not need the state Supreme Court to change the local school-funding formula. When a new regional school district is formed, a new funding formula can also be placed on the ballot.