Morris Plains Borough, a two-school K-8 district in Morris County with a grand total of 680 kids, would seem ripe for consolidation with K-12 Morris School District next door. In three months time, Morris’s Executive County Superintendent, the felicitously-named Carole Morris, has marching orders to propose various mergers, including a mandate to
recommend to the commissioner a school district consolidation plan to eliminate all
districts, other than county-based districts and other than preschool or kindergarten
through grade 12 districts in the county, through the establishment or enlargement of
regional school districts.
No brainer, right? Not according to the folks in Morris Plains. The Star-Ledger reports that residents there have already articulated why consolidation is a terrible idea – costs for textbooks, transportation, and teachers’ salaries would increase, their administration costs are already low, and they don’t have the money for the required feasibility study, estimated to cost $50,000.
Whether all this is true or not – most of it is – doesn’t even matter, because all that’s needed to nix the consolidation is a thumbs-down from Morris Plains residents. The big piece of change, of course, is salary differences between teachers employed in Morris Plains and teachers employed in Morris School District. According to DOE data, the average teacher in Morris Plains makes $50,888 and the average teacher in Morris School District makes $66,409. State law (N.J.S.A.18A:6-31.4) mandates that the teachers’ contract that was in place in the largest district before consolidation becomes the new contract for everyone in the newly-formed regional district and larger districts almost always have higher salaries.
So maybe we’re not ready to reduce the onerous number of school districts yet. Maybe we need to look at county-wide negotiations whereby all districts in one county would share a contract. Talk about saving time and money.
One other item about the non-merger of Morris Plains and Morris County School District: Morris Plains is an “I” district, which means its socio-economic level is the second highest on a scale from A – J. Morris County is a GH district, still comfortable but not in the same league as its wealthier neighbor. And it’s far more diverse. In Frelinghuysen Middle School in Morris County School District, there are 172 white kids, 50 black kids, and 66 Hispanic kids in the 6th grade. However, in Morris Plains Borough’s 3th-8th grade school the kids are all white, or at least the minority population is so small as to not qualify as a subgroup on state testing.
Home rule allegiance is one thing. Segregation is another. The former is here to stay. The latter won’t be addressed until the State puts some teeth into consolidation efforts.