Barnegat Leader

Online Petition Drive Underway Against School Reconfiguring Plan

Mar 15, 2019
Photo by: Ryan Morrill A schoolbus leaves the Robert Horbelt School Monday after school.

Two Barnegat Township parents, Tracy Sutton and Christine Matzer Krug, have started an online petition opposing a recently announced Barnegat Township School District reconfiguring plan that, among other changes, would result in the four elementary schools housing two grades each rather than continuing as K-5 buildings. If the plan goes into effect next September, the Cecil S. Collins School would house Pre-K and kindergarten. The Joseph T. Donohue School would be home for first and second grade. Third- and fourth-graders would attend the Lillian M. Dunfee School, while the Robert Horbelt School would house grades five and six. 

The Russell O. Brackman Middle School would house grades seven and eight instead of the current six through eight.

“By signing this petition I am saying ‘no’ to this redistricting plan for many reasons,” the petition reads. “I am concerned about the environmental stress and anxiety that will be imposed upon my child having to switch schools every two years. I am concerned about the lack of stability this plan provides for my child’s sense of belonging and school spirit. I am concerned that the friendships my child has forged with classmates in smaller elementary school settings will be lost in a much larger setting with a larger grade level population.”

It continues, “As a taxpayer, I am concerned with the cost of transportation for these changes and the stress that will be inflicted upon my child having to spend an extended and unspecified amount of time traveling to and from a school that is further away from home. We propose that the Barnegat School District be left intact the way it is now and any consideration of redistricting be put on a referendum during a future Township election so that the taxpayers of Barnegat Township can help decide what is in the best interest of their children.”

District Superintendent Brian Latwis said the plan has the approval of the board of education as well as the administrative team of principals, vice principals and supervisors.

“While we understand this model creates more transitions for the students and eliminates singular school communities, the benefits to this new structure far outweigh the setbacks,” wrote Latwis in a letter to parents. “By creating five two-year grade spans, we are eliminating the ‘middle school’ and the anxiety that goes with it. Now, it is the next paw up. Similarly, this model allows students to grow with their peers in Barnegat starting in Pre-Kindergarten, thereby creating a larger, more unified community. We are also working together to create a plan for seamless transitions from each school that allows for students, teachers and families to celebrate the accomplishments and successes that each student has achieved at every level.” 

Latwis said the plan “increases the consistency for delivery of instruction,” allowing for more opportunities for collaboration among teachers of the same grade level.

“We can utilize resources more efficiently, which has a positive impact on the budget,” he said. “We’ll have the ability to outfit each building to support specific age groups, whether it’s resources and materials, playground and facilities, targeted instructional programs, technology and clubs and activities.”

Latwis said other benefits include implementation of a full-time anti-bullying specialist, expansion of gifted and talented programs, and increase in strategic reading intervention to support literacy.

The board of education had scheduled a special public presentation of the plan on March 14.

The petitioners’ goal is to have 1,500 signatures. Currently, it is closing in on the 1,000 mark.

“My niece and nephew attend Barnegat schools, and I was so surprised and disheartened to learn of this rushed and haphazard plan being pushed through,” wrote one signer. “Pushed though without any local democratic process, no community hearings or discussion. It is a shameful and quite cowardly approach to such a major community issue, and all by an unelected official. Barnegat has such a unique and special walkable and community-based design for local schools that should be treasured. My sister’s family has been so happy with it. If this upending of the school system is an attempt to solve an issue, I’m sure the parents and teachers and others involved in Barnegat can come together to find a creative solution that builds upon existing community, rather than splintering schools for kids at such young ages. And all without any educational or developmental research to support this kind of restructuring.”

Another wrote, “As a taxpayer with a child in private school who does not utilize any Barnegat school services, I am curious to see about the impact studies that have been done on how this will affect our taxes. Major renovations will need to be done to the PreK and K school to accommodate children of that age. The cost of these renovations will surely exceed the 2 percent state cap on property taxes when we already have the highest taxes in Ocean County. If you want to revitalize the school district, what you will be doing is driving young families out of Barnegat by making the cost of homeownership inaccessible.”

“Having children change schools every two years will create an unstable, chaotic learning environment,” wrote another. “This will not benefit the students in any way, and will only make things harder for parents (especially with more than one kid) and raise taxes.”

Latwis said he understands the concerns, but asks that “everyone listens to the full proposal and presentation, take the opportunity to have open-minded dialogue and ask questions, wait to get all the facts and then formulate an opinion.”

“I have met with many parents the last few days as well as staff,” he said. “I feel the meetings overall have went well. I support parents advocating for what they believe is right.  As a district we embrace parent participation. The administrative team, board of education and staff believe in this proposal and support it, as we all believe it will have a positive impact on our students. Hopefully, there will be more opportunities to partner with the community and allow for open dialogue.”

— Eric Englund

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