COURT HOUSE — Three years ago, the state Department of Education (DOE) ordered studies to look at consolidation of school districts, in particular creating districts encompassing kindergarten through the twelfth grade but those studies to have been undertaken by state colleges were not funded.
DOE also wanted to eliminate non-operating school districts, towns that do not have a school building but send their students to another district on a tuition basis. Cape May Point and West Wildwood are non-operating districts.
The deadline will come and go without recommendations being presented for school consolidation, according to county Executive Superintendent Terrance Crowley.
“The studies aren’t done, therefore there’s not going to be any recommendations by March 10,” he said.
Until new state funding is found for the colleges, there will be no recommendations for consolidations of schools, said Crowley. He said Rowan and Stockton colleges were to conduct studies in this county but the contracts were never executed.
Crowley said Gov. Christie has not mentioned school consolidation but discussion has centered on Choice and charter schools.
Crowley warned local school districts in 2008 to plan ahead for big drop off in state aid in three years. Last week, Gov. Chris Christie cut $475 million in state aid to 500 school districts.
Big losers in this county include Lower Township Elementary District at $841,818, Middle Township at $803,605 and Ocean City at $650,000.
Crowley told the Herald he did not see the dip in state aid causing consolidation of schools in the near future. He said his office was trying to give advice and assistance to school districts to make whatever adjustments they need to make to deal with the shortfall in state aid.
Crowley said he was also watching a promised drop in state aid next year thought to be a 15 percent decrease.
“The pot of money, from what we are hearing, they are trying to maintain as flat,” he said.
It remains to be seen how that will be distributed, said Crowley.
He said school districts were still required to present their proposed budget to his office by the end of March, so they can appear on the April school election ballots.
Cape May, West Cape May and Cape May Point are working with a consultant undertaking a study to see if they could regionalize or consolidate. Crowley said the study should be completed in a few months.
He said no other school districts in the county have reached the point where they are working with a consultant.
Is an area better off consolidating into with one larger school offering a variety of programs than two or more smaller schools struggling with fewer offerings?
“That’s really in my mind why you do it, to make sure your educational program is the best that it can be,” said Crowley. “It’s tough to offer a whole variety of math courses when you only have a handful of youngsters in each class.”
Consolidating schools may not save $1 million but the result is a better educational program, he said.
Crowley began his state-created position in November 2007 to ensure schools are financially prudent, and to encourage shared services in purchasing, teachers, facilities and insurance, he said.
The Executive County Superintendent also has a line item veto on local school budgets and can redirect or eliminate areas of a school’s budget.