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Apathy Serves Inequity

In the face of compelling and compounding inequities, will the parents and taxpayers of the Mendhams and the Chesters unite and act to end the status quo?

            Last spring, the governing bodies of the Chesters and the Mendhams unanimously passed resolutions asking the West Morris Regional High School District (WMRHSD) Board of Education to allow residents of our District to vote on changing the inequitable funding of our high schools.  On March 22, 2011, the Board denied these requests to allow the people to be heard.  Since that date, the taxpayers of the Mendhams and Chesters have paid an additional $5,600,000 in subsidy to fund Central High School.  To be clear, this is the amount over and above what we pay to support our own Mendham High School (MHS). By the end of the school budget year, that amount will have increased to $6,200,000.  (See the attached data on school spending, taxation, and performance compiled from the NJ Department of Education, Monmouth University and the WMRHSD.)

            What will we, the taxpayers of the Mendhams and the Chesters, do about this?

            To add insult to injury, not only do the Mendhams and Chesters pay twice per student in taxes than Long Valley but the Washington Township-controlled Board has the audacity to spend the majority of its budget on Central High School.  See pages 5-7 of the attachment.  On the WMRHSD Board, former member Sue Guillmette and current members Jamie Button and Marcia Asdal have asked the Board to establish a goal of equal spending per student at the two high schools.  Each time those efforts have been soundly thwarted by the Washington Township-controlled Board.

            What will we, the taxpayers of the Mendhams and the Chesters, do about this?

            Perhaps this inequitable spending is having an impact on the performance of our MHS students.  Since 2002, MHS students’ SAT Math scores have remained virtually flat while SAT Verbal scores have steadily declined.  MHS scores 10th out of 13 NJ public high schools located in similar communities.  See pages 3-4 of the attachment.

As the Washington Township-controlled Board refuses to allow the parents of our high school students to be surveyed about issues/suggestions/comments at MHS, we have no way of knowing whether the additional SAT tutoring expense incurred by the students’ parents has kept MHS SAT scores from spiraling down further.

            What will we, the parents of Mendham and Chester students, do about this?

            Unlike more perplexing issues in our larger community, we can actually do something to correct these inequities.  And it doesn’t take much effort.  But without action, these inequities will continue and compound.  Can we really afford to do nothing?

            On February 23, 2012, the Mendham and Chester Boroughs and Chester Township mayors will produce a presentation by representatives of the NJ Department of Education.  At this writing, an agenda has not been made public.  This presentation follows the March 22, 2011, WMRHSD Board of Education declaration that the fair funding formula needed additional study.  This latest presentation also follows the June 14, 2011 Public Forum when five mayors and a plethora of elected officials agreed that the inequitable funding formula could no longer be tolerated.  This presentation further follows months of private meetings by four of these same mayors, presumably to further “study” the issue.  Now, we all must ask, “What happens on February 24, 2012?”

            We cannot afford to sit idly by and allow our local school board officials and our governing bodies to consume additional study time while taxpayers send $17,000 per day over to Central High School so that Washington Township residents can have artificially lower taxes. 

            Silence will only allow the inequities to continue and grow.  It’s time for us to demand that action be taken.  It’s time for us to tell our mayors, council members and K-8 school board members that we need a feasibility study so that the voters can be informed and allowed to vote on whether the Mendhams and Chesters must continue to be held hostage by the Washington Township-controlled Board of Education, spending more of our money on Central High School students while ours suffer, setting spending policies which benefit Central High School and voting themselves extended terms in office. 

            We were advised by Vito Gagliardi, Esq. that such a study would cost $50,000.  Divided between the three local K-8s and the four governing bodies, this equates to $7,143 per entity.  That sum, compared to the $17,000/day subsidy is insignificant.

            This is no time to be apathetic.  This is no time to be fearful of speaking to our elected officials and telling them that we expect them to act in our best interests without further delay.  Place a call, send an e-mail, or mail a letter to each and every one of them to let them know how dearly their delay is costing their constituents and our students.

If we don’t take action, the inequities will only continue to the detriment of our students and our taxpayers.  The meter is ticking at $17,000/day.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Barbara February 23, 2012 at 01:18 PM
Leta- I am not demanding anything. I don't have all the answers and it really does not matter what I think. I will just tell you what I believe to be accurate information: 1. Your town sets your property tax rate and determines your assessed value, as is the same in the Mendhams and Chesters. 2. WT sends approximately the same amount of kids to the district as the Mendhams and Chesters combined. 3. The Principals at each high school determine the class offerings. 4. WT is an "I" district. There is a difference between ability to pay and wanting to pay.
jmwk February 24, 2012 at 02:33 PM
Charlene – I was wondering if the figure of $6,200,000 took into consideration the fact that a lot of the state aid WMRHS gets back is because of WT (WRMHS got back over $4,000,000 in state aid) If it doesn’t could you please adjust it to reflect that fact. Thanks.
Just Sayin' February 24, 2012 at 03:21 PM
Jean - Excellent point and should Washington Townships enrollment drop further as projected by the demographer, then this dollar amount is even further reduced. Just think of the savings if Chesters and Mendhams went to one K-8 district like Washington Township. It was pointed out, by some, last evening that this should likely come first, especially with the open Superintendent positions.
jmwk March 02, 2012 at 03:23 PM
Hi Charlene - could you please answer my question as I am trying to be informed. I have also asked the same question on the Observer Tribune as you just sent them a letter. Thanks.
jmwk March 02, 2012 at 03:27 PM
Leta - Thanks for noticing my post. I also think this number changes every year and will be lower since we are starting to have less from WT go to the HS. I agree with you about the Chesters and Mendhams having one K-8 as they all go to the same HS so that would be a big help to get them all on the same page for HS.

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