I worked peripherally, with the commissioner of Education in NY, before he became the newly appointed Commissioner in NJ. In NY he was infamous for closing down 900 schools in his first couple of years. While the burden of this shift was felt mostly by the communities and parents, the “consolidation” proved mightily helpful from a State budget point of view. School consolidations/closures for urban and rural regions of Jersey (I would bet money) is on the top of his Christie designed agenda since taking office last month. This follows on the tails of Superintendent salary freezes, and precedes 2011 budget reductions, as we are all anticipating trending from last year. We do have a gigantic budget gap to close after all!

Here in Frelinghuysenfolly we have had four years with no local school budget increases. There is no doubt in my mind that our Doctor of the School is running a very well tuned economic machine on the hill. He is a strategic thinker, a planner, and as a sailor, there is no doubt he runs a tight ship. I applaud this! The Doctor of our School negotiated a 5 year contract last year to lock in at a salary level unencumbered by the freeze until it is renegotiated, and this is certainly to our benefit (even though it costs a bit more) because he will be less likely to migrate to another Jersey school right now; it shows commitment both from him and from our BOE. Good for us!

 I do wish we could avoid Dr. Suezz’s Flobbertown example by avoiding becoming a school that focuses too much on standardized test. Because of course in my utopia every teacher is employing Multiple Intelligences Theory, Brain Gym, and field trips and experiential learning in addition to the core basic memorized skill base; they do not “teach to the test” in my utopia. And of course art and music and gym are not part-time or the “minimum requirement” but are linked in an inter-disciplinary way to all subjects to improve math and language arts and science and history learning. And while in the world of the ideal, I do wish the Dr. should spend more time out the in the hallways at the day’s beginning/end/lunch times to have more exposure to the children, and to serve in a male model/mentor capacity a bit more through conversation and play.

Test results on the NJ Ask will play a direct role in downsizing/consolidation issues – the State will never close a high performing school; but a mediocre performing school, or a low performing school, will certainly be effected/affected by the “coming soon” consolidation thinking. Interestingly other schools around us are having conversations about their “status” to determine how to best maintain local control of their elementary schools.

In October 2010 I invited elected officials to join a consulting team brought in to the school by Amelia to explore solar investment with no capital needed. The town officials were too busy to attend, but they did make phone calls to each other… and we/the school proceeded with planning, and now, in February, we are finally at the point of both the school and the elected officials saying “we should be discussing this issue together.” Great. So now we are starting over, but at least the town is now willing to come to the table. Of course schools and municipalities that work expertly together are more likely to succeed than those who do not; we need to really be working together in the next two years.

What’s next? As part of thinking about a new recreation facility, and a new DPW building, we need to also be evaluating our school and the potential for its facility expansion and alternative use plans as they relate to the municipality, recreation, and the local economy; there are some pretty amazing “impermanent gym structures” out there that would not be held to school expansion regulations if their use was multi-use and if it is not attached/removable pre-fab. This innovation, of the town and the school working in partnership, is what is going to keep a local school, under local direction, in the upcoming consolidation era. Our school is a community resource, a community center, a community asset.  (Novel note: reference consolidation studies done in North Warren County that show that consolidation is not cost-effective here because we are so rural).