By Todd DeFeo
(The Center Square) – The state Senate unanimously voted to advance legislation that would remove school consolidation obstacles and encourage K-12 regional and countywide school districts’ creation.
S-3488 creates criteria for state-funded regionalization studies, as well as increases flexibility on regionalization cost apportionment, and provides financial incentives for districts that would lose state aid because of declining enrollment. It also preserves accrued tenure and seniority and bars any efforts that would segregate students.
“Consolidation does not work in every case, but some districts in the state have identified both financial and educational benefits from merging,” state Sen. Declan O’Scanlon, R-Monmouth, said in a news release. “This bill would not force schools to consolidate, but it removes some of the impediments that can prevent districts from proceeding with plans that can benefit both taxpayers and students.
“In certain situations, consolidation can reduce the cost of education, deliver property tax savings, increase educational opportunities and improve overall education quality,” O’Scanlon added. “For school districts to make informed decisions, feasibility studies are essential. The costs associated with these studies should not discourage districts from exploring options that could save taxpayer money in the future.”
The measure includes a grant program to help districts execute feasibility studies, a move that proponents say will reduce local taxpayers’ burden in districts eyeing a consolidation.
“This will be the first major overhaul of New Jersey’s school regionalization statute in over 25 years,” state Sen. Steve Sweeney, D-Gloucester/Salem/Cumberland, said in a statement. “It is designed to improve the quality of education by ensuring coordination of curriculum from grades K to 12, provide the enriched educational experience that smaller districts cannot offer, and generate long-term savings that can be used to hold down property taxes or reinvest in expanded educational programs.”
The proposal has drawn the support of the New Jersey Business & Industry Association (NJBIA), which said the bill will lead to sustained savings for the state.
“This incentive-based opportunity for districts to explore regionalization will help bring much more efficiencies to those districts and, ultimately, much-needed property tax savings,” NJBIA Vice President of Government Affairs Christopher Emigholz said in a previous statement. “For New Jersey to truly improve its fiscal health, reforms found in this bill and in other Path to Progress legislation need to be seriously approached and achieved.”
The New Jersey Education Association and the New Jersey School Boards Association are among the organizations that have also endorsed the bill.
Originally published by The Center Square. Republished with permission.