Hunterdon residents may vote on merging all schools

Hunterdon residents will likely be asked to vote in November on a proposal to merge all the schools into just five districts, based on the five high schools.

One such district already exists: The voters of Lambertville, Stockton and West Amwell Township voted last fall to merge their elementary schools and South Hunterdon High into one new district, which began operations July 1.

The Freeholders at their meeting in Flemington Tuesday night agreed to proceed with the referendum, which was suggested by Freeholder Rob Walton. He’s been an advocate of more shared government services for years.

Freeholder Director Matt Holt was absent, so Deputy Director John King ran the meeting, and he joined Walton in speaking highly of school consolidation.

Walton mentioned a recent Democrat article reporting on the dearth of candidates in many districts for the upcoming school elections.

“Maybe there’s too many of them,” he said.

The new South Hunterdon district is "doing remarkably well” and the advocates say they expect better educational opportunities for the students, “the savings will come second,” he said.

Walton said he once favored one county-wide school system, but allowed “that might be a little too much to swallow” for the residents.

King noted that education makes up “70 percent of the tax bills in Hunterdon County” and that’s a concern for the county’s aging population, who no longer have children in the schools.

Similarly, the younger people (ages 18-34) that the county is trying to attract are also interested in taxes because many of them don’t have any children until they after 34, he said.

The deadline to get a ballot question on the November ballot is Sept. 1, and King said he will work with Walton on its wording. Walton said they’ll consult with County Counsel Shana Taylor and County Clerk Mary Melfi on the question and the accompanying explanation.

Even though the South district is created, its residents would vote again in the referendum, since it’s a county-wide ballot question.

Freeholder John E. Lanza lives in Lambertville.

“I would be very happy to vote for school consolidation again,” he said, adding that it’s not a party issue. Lambertville and Stockton voters are predominantly Democrats while West Amwell is Republican. All three towns voted for the joining and showed “wide and deep” support, he said.

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