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Tonight is the Hopewell Valley Regional School District’s school board meeting with the final recommendations from the Future Planning Committee at Timberlane Middle School. We’re reporting live from a packed house. Refresh this page to find out what is going on as it is happening.

Overview of “future planning” and the schedule for the evening: 40 members of the school community who have spend the last 8 months working together to develop recommendations they will present this evening. There are subcommittee and a spokesperson for each of these to report on their findings. After that, open to board for questions and then open for public comment.

7:45 Dr. Thomas Smith, Superintendent of Schools, talked about school enrollment and its decline. Showed a snapshot of the demographer’s report illustrating the enrollment decline. Missing the early family demographics and instead people moving in mid-way through the elementary school career (recently several families move in with children in 4th grade). Need to look at the information and plan proactively for the future.

“The process in review” – talked about the timeline of the formation of the future planning committees and frequency of meetings. Said that the members took the process seriously. 40 people who gave up a lot of time to do due diligence necessary. Overall the committee met for over 30 hours.

SUBCOMMITTEE REPORTS

photo7:52 James Creegan speaking. Commenting on the process said that initial meetings were about developing the process bringing in members of the community and said there was a wide cross-section of the community of educators, parents, a mix of both, community members in general… the entire process was cooperative with a shared common interest in developing solutions.

“It became clear there would be no large substantive development that would change the demographics.”

Talked about the possible scenarios that they considered, immediately rejected, etc. 1) “do nothing” – population at Bear Tavern is reducing so substantially that this option was not a consideration. it was apparent that the population was declining but it wouldn’t explode in the next 5 years; 2) “closing a school” – Toll Gate was the obvious choice for that but considering transportation costs and creating over capacity at the other schools plus uprooting children in a community caused this not to be a good option; 3) “broken elementary school model” breaking up the grades in elementary schools – this was a significant transportation cost and another transition for young children so this was not a consideration; 4) “full day kindergarden” –

Full Day Kindergarten – people ask what this has to do with under-enrollment. Creegan said that this was a time to consider all the ways to improve the district. Thought about 1) a trial full day K or 2) transition to full day K — early on decided not to do the trial because the move to full day K was coming one way or another but it was a matter of when (there is a bill before the state assembly about this already). The issue became whether the schools can handle the full day K capacity (required to have bathroom in the classroom for K) but based on this information the subcommittee on full day K determined all the schools have the capacity to handle this.

Space-wise could handle full day K by next September. Then they looked at the benefits and negatives — looked at student impact, transportation, academic program. It is the academic program where the main benefit comes in – with 1/2 day K there is not enough time to meet the common core requirements and elements of these have been removed. Part of kindergarten is socializing and right now there is no time for that. And costs? There would be costs for full day – 5 more teachers and 5 more paraprofessionals (about $500,000 in terms of staff costs plus another $100,000 one time cost for materials). The group believes that there is actually no new cost to the budget because the district has to lose 5 teachers — offsetting and mitigating. Talked about the extension program that most families are using so there would be loss of venue for that at $100,000 but it is a benefit that all the families would see. Spoke about how the majority of the districts already have full day and it will be draw. Creegan is not familiar with anyone who would oppose full day K.

photo8:10 Bruce Arcurio, Bear Tavern Principal – part of a group of 7 members looking at this from the standpoint of whether it makes sense to use the space in one of the buildings for administration and selling the administration building. Looked at all the buildings and only Timberlane and Bear Tavern were appropriate for this. Timberlane was eliminated b/c there was no way to separate the administration offices. With Bear Tavern as the prime option for moving the administration building. The consideration was done absent full day K or STEM but that would yield a higher # of students in the schools at a given time. Talked about traffic disruptions and where to park buses and put equipment if no more administration building as well as no large board meeting room available during the school day – too much disruption. Committee ruled out Bear Tavern and then thought about vacant office space in the community but the size they need wouldn’t take care of all the issues and concerns and would be too costly. Unanimous decision to leave the administration building where it is.

8:15 John Johann wanted to find any way to avoid redistricting proposal. Based on the demographic reports. Examined possibility of shifting resources. When looking at the numbers and costs involved and considering that Elm Ridge was moved to Hopewell Elementary in 2007, they talked about whether they needed to do this b/c it would effect the families. Recognize the need to reallocate resources –> tried to look at all the costs including the direction of busing and after many hours of discussion, they decided to just include one housing community in this move instead of arbitrary carving out of a community.

Wants to move students from Stony Brook Hopewell Grant community to Bear Tavern – to maintain good class ratio sizes and would cost possibly two additional bus runs. It is yet to be determined whether there is a material impact on transportation cost. The Hopewell Grant community was the logical possibly for this change and recommending the change to be made next year with existing 4th graders to stay for 5th grade and then after that the entire community would move to Bear Tavern.

8:24 Debbie Linthorst talked about “option G” moving all 5th grades to Timberland Middle School. The costs is equivalent to 7 bus-runs because those 5th graders might not want their 5th graders who share the bus with the high school. This would expand on the departmentalized model and increase time in middle school balancing out the number of years at each of the schools. Might improve the extra circular. This is a commonly used model in other districts and looked at this concurrently whether or not full day K would be implemented. Determined that there is no difference in student achievement. Determined not to recommend this move unless absolutely necessary and directly related to space needs — too many cultural shifts.photo

8:30 Rebecca Mora talked about the expansion of magnet programs (dual immersion). Voluntary redistricting in that program participants would opt to move to a different district for the program. The subcommittee reviewed a dual immersion program that had been proposed with 50% english/50% target language program. Committee felt strongly that this type of program should reflect community interest. The final recommendation is to review the current magnet program and to create a long and short term action plan.

8:33 Dr Smith, Superintendent of Schools, says that this is a committee under the charge of the Superintendent of Schools and are ad hoc serving an advisory process. The board is under no obligation to accept any of these recommendations. Should the board want to look at these more in-depth, they might reconvene the committee. No decision tonight. This is advisory only.

8:34 James Creegan – Talked about iInitial committee vote to rank the 5 scenarios with the most popular as full day K. Then the final committee vote: 1) full day K; 2) redistricting (strongly supported); 3) Magnet programs; Both 4 and 5) Moving 5th grade and administration building move – these were met with predominately “no” votes and the second was unanimously “no.” Talked about a need to rebalance the schools to avoid running the risk of having an influx of students that was not accurately predicted in the demographer’s report.  These recommendations all go hand-in-hand including full day K.

Dr. Smith thanking the future planning committee and OPENS UP TO THE BOARD

QUESTION from Adam Sawicki about option b – when you look at projected enrollment at the low 70%, couldn’t you put all the students into 3 elementary schools. wants to know what the # breaking point was to remove closing one of the schools.

Answers. Smith: There is a certain point where there was discussion but even prior to breaking into subcommittees it was off the table. // Markulec: Some talked about how much developments have been vehemently opposed and they can only assume that there will be opposition to the new plan to put homes on Scotch Rd so that is an artificial constraint.

QUESTION from Markulec re: Magnet program and how that would effect the need for redistricting.

Answer. Smith: says that there is a question also about the size. Alex Bereznic: they calculated 3-4 magnet sessions and this allows for voluntary redistricting to Bear Tavern so in this sense the magnet programs could be used.

QUESTION from Lisa Wolff: What magnet programs did you consider and whether people would be coming from out of district or within district?

Answer. These is a limit on how many students you can bring in. Debbie: says they also considered the “choice program” to bring students from out of district which is a capped program.

QUESTION Markulec wanted to know about shared services.

Answer. Arcurio – Considered housing buses at Township yard. When you couple this with other considerations, it seemed like it was a lot of moving the district services and administration at the expense of a lot of different things.  Colavita – visited Township building and Township Administration said there is no room now but space could be made. He said that there was only 1-bay.

QUESTION Sawicki wants to know what other school districts have done.

Answer. Smith said that they didn’t do it formally like that.

QUESTION about “cap” Answer. Colavita – He said that the burdens and staffing will be shifted.

QUESTION Wolff whether full day K will realistically be rolled out for 2015.

Answer. There are things that need to happen but Dr. Smith needs to answer questions about budgetary, materials and costs. He wants the additional time. (Booing from the audience). There are some districts that cannot physically handle a full day K and 5 years ago, this wouldn’t have been an option for this district.

QUESTION from Wolff – HES vs. Stony Brook are these materially different # of students in terms of capacity? Answer. About the same size. FOLLOWUP Question (Wolff says that redistricting brings up a lot of emotion especially as a person living in Stony Brook recommending redistricting in Stony Brook): Comparing the two elementary schools and questioning the recommendation of redistricting the school that has leveled out whereas HES has higher numbers. Answer. The spokesperson said that HES is predicted to level out more than the other. Stony Brook already at 90% capacity.

SCHOOL BOARD voted to say that they will consider the recommendations NOT whether they will enact the recommendations.

OPEN TO THE PUBLIC.

9:09 Molly LePort. A resident, parent and a latin teacher. Totally in favor of all day kindergarten. Has a comment on the spanish emersion and along these lines is afraid that the programs will meet only the needs of a few students and disregarding the needs of the rest.

9:12 Cathleen O’Connor. Although recognizes the board is not voting, they urge the board to adopt the recommendations.

9:13 Kevin Kuchinski. Applauds the district for tackling this challenge. Encourages the board to study the recommendations presented tonight and acknowledges the pain of redistricting. Asks the board whether the plan is look at options 1 by 1 or all together.

9:15 Barbara Jensen. Two children at Bear Tavern. Had no idea that the district is gunning for having her 3 year old go to K go full time. (Lisa Wolff asked this public speaker for follow-up with Dr. Smith — they are interested in hearing from people who have apprehensions about full day K)

9:17 Diane Baratta. Talked about affordable housing/COAH. Wants to know whether these students will be going to Bear Tavern and what will happen to those students. Has friends in the community that might get redistricted and asks that the school board seriously consider the affordable housing obligation. Wants to know about how the Scotch Rd development is considered.

Bruce Gunther said that the COAH numbers are coming out on Thursday. AND Thursday evening the Township planning board will be meeting to discuss Scotch Road which is a good opportunity to hear what the state is asking for and what the options are.

Dr. Smith says that the district is working closing with the Township and the Township worked with the district’s demographer and, with new development, 650 students would come into the district. The district would hope not to move students back and forth. Some students would go to Bear Tavern, some to Stony Brook and maybe some to Toll Gate. The district can’t get into a trend of waiting 10 years to solving a problem.

Gunther talked about the # of affordable housing — the total development is is more than the affordable housing #s.

9:24 Andrea Stover. Parent with kids in Toll Gate and younger ones going to Toll Gate. Concerned about time being an issue. Urges that board to vote for full day K for 2015. Doing disservice for students going only 1/2 day (Applause.)

9:26 Sue Dayner. Surprised to hear that the decision is to move students currently enrolled and is hoping that the district would consider allowing the students currently in the school to remain. Also spoke about her son participating in the STEM program and asks that the district to reach out to the families and communities to be more communicative and consider the factors if making that move.

PUBLIC COMMENT CLOSED.

Report read into the record.

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Mary Galioto
Mary Galioto is the founder, publisher and editor of MercerMe, and a lawyer. Originally from Brooklyn, Mary has progressively moved deeper and deeper into New Jersey, settling in the heart of the state: Mercer County. Formerly the author of an embarrassingly informal blog, Mary is a lifelong writer and asker of questions and was even mentioned, albeit briefly, in the New York Times and Washington Post. In her free time, Mary fills her life with excessive self-reflection, photographing mushrooms, and misguided adventures in random hobbies. Mary also works as the PR Coordinator at the Hopewell Valley Arts Council, serves on the volunteer Board of Trustees of the Lawrence Hopewell Trail (LHT), serves on the Hopewell Borough Board of Health, is a member of the Hopewell Valley Municipal Alliance, and holds the elected position as the Hopewell Borough Democratic Committee Municipal Chairwoman.

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