In Linwood, Northfield and Somers Point the talk is consolidation

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There are six public elementary schools and one high school and currently four boards of education for students in the Mainland communities. There are six public elementary schools and one high school and currently four boards of education for students in the Mainland communities. Effective the close of the fiscal year on June 30, all four mainland area school districts were without a permanent superintendent. In a run-up to that event, the city councils Northfield, Linwood and Somers Point each passed a resolution asking the boards of education to consider a consolidation of service agreement between all of the districts to share one superintendent.

While nothing is set in stone, the possibility of conducting a feasibility study is a possibility if funding is available. A study could determine if it is economically feasible to even consider all of the districts operating with just one superintendent.

A series of retirements and changes occurred in the four districts. Tom Baruffi retired from his position at Mainland and Linwood; Robert Previti left his interim position in Somers Point to take another interim spot at Mainland, and a short-term with Linwood; and Janice Fipp is leaving Northfield, where Robert Garguilo has been retained as an interim while a permanent superintendent search continues.

The initial resolution came from Somers Point City Council where Mayor Jack Glasser proposed the consolidation resolution noting that because of the unique situation of all of the sending districts searching for a superintendent at the same time, it was an idea whose time has come.

“We have an obligation to our constituents to look for opportunities to save tax dollars and this would be a savings,” Glasser said on May 22 when the resolution was first proposed.

Northfield City Council passed a resolution June 24, and Linwood City Council did the same Wednesday, June 9. The Linwood Board of Education has since hired a superintendent, Marianne Gaffney, whose contract runs through June 30, 2017.

In response to the councils passing a resolution calling for a school superintendent consolidation, the presidents of the four school districts - Richard Gray of Somers Point, Steven Wynne of Northfield, Lynne Gibson of Linwood and Jill Ojserkis of Mainland Regional – signed a letter addressed to Glasser and Somers Point City Council members, a copy of which was sent to Mayor Jerry McGee of Northfield and Mayor Richard DePamphilis of Linwood, as well as Atlantic County Freeholder Chairman Frank Formica, County Executive Dennis Levinson and New Jersey Assemblyman Vince Mazzeo.

In the letter, the presidents outlined the services the districts are currently sharing, some of which have been in place for some time.

Mainland and Linwood share the superintendent shared and facilities director positions. There is a wrestling program with all three districts at the middle school level, and a joint agreement for the purchase of plumbing and electrical needs. Mainland provides transportation for all districts, including field and athletic trips. Linwood and Mainland also share a health and benefits broker. They use joint bidding for dental insurance and banking services, work together on snow removal and lining the fields.

The Linwood Board of Education shares Internet services with the City of Linwood. The Linwood Police Department provides a school resource officer for Mainland High School. The Northfield Board of Education and the City of Northfield share lawn care equipment.

The Somers Point School District and the City of Somers Point collaborate on community education and recreation programs.

The board presidents confirmed that they are seeking ways to consolidate for the benefit of students and taxpayers. They said they are seeking quotes for a joint study on consolidation, but all four boards of education would have to approve it, hopefully by the end of July.

“We are mindful that consolidation is complex since each district has its own bargaining unit, bond obligations, contracts and liabilities that, once merged, could affect (negatively or positively) the tax in one or more municipalities as well as the calculation of state school aid,” they wrote.

Upon completion of the joint study, a public meeting disseminating the information and hearing public input would be appropriate, the four school board presidents said.

The letter to the municipal leaders concluded by saying how diligently all of the district superintendents work to manage their respective district, and its negotiations, policies, budget and more.

“We are most appreciative of economic realities facing our municipalities, the county and our individual residents. As volunteer board members we are accountable not only to our students but to our taxpayers. In addition, we are all taxpayers ourselves. We believe that maintaining our excellent schools enhances the desirability of our districts and it is important to the stability of the tax base. We will continue to explore shared service opportunities, as well as the possibility of district consolidation in a transparent manner,” they said.

Steve Wynne, president of the Northfield Board of Education said in the letter to the governing body that he has been in contact with Assemblyman Vince Mazzeo and that the assemblyman is pursuing more than $80,000 in state funding for the study.

Confirmation from Mazzeo about the availability of funding for the study was not available as of publication.

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