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Sweeney, Ruiz, Gopal Explore Benefits, Challenges of School Regionalization at Roundtable

Trenton – Senate President Steve Sweeney, Senate Education Chair M. Teresa Ruiz, and Senator Vin Gopal discussed the benefits and challenges of creating K-12 regional and countywide school districts at a roundtable with educational and community leaders today.

The senators held the roundtable to discuss regionalization implementation issues in the wake of unanimous Senate passage of Senate Bill 3488, which provides full state funding for regionalization studies and makes changes to the state’s regionalization statute designed to make it easier for districts to regionalize.

“We are in the opening stages of the biggest school regionalization initiative in New Jersey history,” said Senator Sweeney (D-Gloucester/Salem/Cumberland). “School regionalization studies are already underway or approved that cover 26 school districts, and dozens of other districts are considering applying for study grants.”

The senators heard from leaders of two of the regionalization initiatives: Dr. Melissa McCooley, the shared superintendent of the Pinelands Regional and Little Egg Harbor school districts, who is spearheading a five-district K-12 regionalization, and Benjamin H. Laury, Commissioner Director of the Salem County Board of Commissioners, which has played a lead role in a study into the feasibility of merging Salem’s 13 districts into a countywide school district.

“We should be pursuing any opportunity we can to study best practices and create models to improve the quality of education for all New Jersey students,” said Senator Ruiz (D-Essex). “Today’s discussion provided me the chance to learn more about the school regionalization studies happening around the state and how districts are working to strengthen the educational experience they offer to our students.”

Also participating in the roundtable were Montclair Mayor Sean Spiller, vice president of the New Jersey Education Association; Tom Puryear, chairman of the NAACP New Jersey State Conference Education Committee; and Jonathan Pushman, New Jersey School Boards Association governmental relations director.

“We are pleased that our legislation, S-3488, has the support of the NJEA, the New Jersey School Boards Association and other education advocacy organizations,” said Senator Gopal (D-Monmouth). “The bill removes significant barriers to regionalization and provides a significant financial incentive by extending the timeline for Adjustment Aid cuts from four years to eight years for districts that regionalize. Most importantly, it is a voluntary process that provides local districts with greater flexibility to design a regionalization phase-in that makes sense for all.”

Today’s roundtable is available for viewing on the New Jersey Senate Majority Office’s Facebook page.