WEST WILDWOOD - A study, commissioned by the West Wildwood School Board and conducted by Stockton University, revealed if West Wildwood public school students are sent to Wildwood’s public schools instead of North Wildwood’s, for pre-K through eighth grade, the city would save $177,118 per year (https://bit.ly/2NjXiHU).
Several parents of West Wildwood students are unhappy with the idea, claiming their children are getting a better education at Margaret Mace School, the North Wildwood school where West Wildwood students are sent through eighth grade, than they would at Glenwood Avenue Elementary and Wildwood Middle School.
“Children aren’t something to toy with. Children are our future,” said Samantha Haws, mother of three Margaret Mace students.
Despite the six-figure savings for the borough, the 71-page feasibility study reveals that the average house in West Wildwood would only get a tax savings of about $200 per year, a cost parents said they would be happy to incur to keep their children situated.
“Every single parent would pay the $200 for their child to stay at Margaret Mace,” Haws said.
To second homeowners or residents without children, $200 a year is “chump change” Haws said.
“If they have the money to come down here, to afford it, that’s a night going to Lobster House for dinner,” she added.
Judson Moore, school board administrator, West Wildwood, one of the 13 non-operating school districts in the state, said the board is doing its “due diligence” by commissioning the study, which, he said, cost about $6,000. Moore said he talked to six parents, all upset, but isn’t surprised by the reaction.
“It’s up to the taxpayers what they want to do. I’m just bringing it to their attention,” Moore said. “There’s a comfort zone there, and the parents like it.”
Moore said the study was first discussed in 2018, and Margaret Mace is “basically like a private school,” which costs over $9,000 more per student than Wildwood would.
“The board is open. We’re not pushing it forward. We wanted to bring it to the people’s attention, and that way, if the vast majority say let’s keep it the way it is, then we will keep it the way it is,” he said.
The study cites data from 2017-2018, which reveals a student/faculty ratio of 5-to-1 at Margaret Mace and 11-to-1 and 10-to-1 at Glenwood Avenue Elementary and Wildwood Middle School, respectively.
“When you say overcrowded, I didn’t see anything in the report that said that,” Moore said, in an interview with the Herald.
However, page 10 of the study reads, “The district (Wildwood) continues to cope with overcrowding in pre-K through grade 5 and special education departments, in the district-owned building, resulting in significant costs for leasing six classroom spaces and out-of-district placements.
“According to administration, the outlook for the immediate future is one of great concern following the passing of Senate bill S-2, which will reduce state aid to Wildwood schools by approximately $2 million over seven years.”
When this was brought to Moore's attention, he was surprised, saying that’s why he wanted the study done in the first place.
“Wow, OK. They’re things to consider,” said Moore. “You know, that’s why we did the study. That’s what it’s all about. We wouldn’t have known that if we didn’t do the study.”
Wildwood enrollment held steady, according to the study. From 2015 to 2019, Wildwood’s kindergarten through eighth-grade enrollment increased by 2.2%, according to Stockton’s research. Meanwhile, Margaret Mace saw a 28.7% drop in enrollment in those same grades in that same timeframe, the research reveals.
Since North Wildwood is raising the highest amount of money for the school allowed through taxes, losing the roughly $621,000 it receives annually from West Wildwood would force them “to make significant reductions in future budgets,” the study states.
Margaret Mace also offers an art and music curriculum that is unparalleled by Wildwood, as well as after school programs and clubs that aren't available to Wildwood students, the research reveals.
Wildwood has higher violence and vandalism rates than North Wildwood, which reports less than one incident per 100 students, while Wildwood reports 2.69 incidents per 100 students at the elementary school and 3.57 at the middle school, the study states.
Wildwood offers a more diverse student body, a more realistic microcosm of the real world. North Wildwood was more than 75% white for all four years of research, while Wildwood was always less than 20% white and more than 65% Hispanic, each year included in the Stockton research, 2015-2018.
“There’s pros and cons to it. It’s up to the taxpayers. It’s totally up to them,” Moore said. “They’re the ones that are paying the bill.”
North Wildwood would have to agree to release the students if the West Wildwood School Board voted to change districts.
“It’s not in our power. If we voted to go forward with it, according to our attorney, North Wildwood would have to get a study done. I don’t know why, because here is a study that is independent,” Moore said. “Then, it would have to go to a Superior Court judge to make a decision from that point as to whether it will go forward to the (state) Department of Education, and the commissioner of the (state) Department of Education has the final say.”
Moore encouraged letters to be mailed, emailed, or delivered to Borough Hall, and said taxpayers and parents will be heard at the next school board meeting.
He said the Feb. 8 meeting is canceled because two of the five board members will be out of town. The board plans to reconvene March 8 and is working on making the proceedings publicly available, via Zoom, Moore said.
He said there was no discussion among the board of trying to use the study to leverage a tuition discount from North Wildwood but said he would be amenable to it.
“We hope that they will, to help us out,” Moore said. “They charge what the state tells them to charge, but they don’t have to. They can undercharge that. They can’t go above it, but they can go below it. They’ve never done that.”
Superintendent Christopher Armstrong, North Wildwood School District (Margaret Mace School), could not immediately be reached for comment.
Moore said there are no issues with North Wildwood, and they have a good working relationship with the district but feels strongly that he owed it to taxpayers to point out the potential savings. He said the board will vote in accordance “with what the people want to do.”
“Financially, it’s a lot of money to pay. Parent wise, you get what you pay for,” Moore said. “If the taxpayers and parents are adamant about staying there, they know what they have to pay. The board is off the hook because we have exposed it. We have said look, don’t come back and say… 'how come you’re not doing something to curtail these taxes.'”
To contact Shay Roddy, email firstname.lastname@example.org.