Residents Pack Another Marathon School Board Meeting
Possible closure of West Belmar School again the main topic
Residents concerned about the possible closure of West Belmar School packed the Board of Education meeting Tuesday, peppering board members with questions about the district’s plan during an occasionally testy, marathon session.
About 80 residents attended the meeting, more than a dozen of whom spoke during the hours-long public comment portion, lasting until nearly midnight. Nearly all had questions about the board’s decision last month to spend $13,000 to hire Middletown-based T & M Associates to conduct a formal feasibility study to examine the outcome of closing Wall’s oldest school.
The board has previously conducted its own study exploring the closure of West Belmar, which at just over 200 pupils has the lowest population of the district’s four elementary schools. The study found that closing the school would net $1 million in annual savings with minimal impact to the population of the remaining three schools.
But Save Wall Township Schools, an organization of residents opposed to the possible closure, dispute the savings and members have said the district may be underestimating the impact to the remaining schools.
“None of us really wants to make that decision,’’ said board president Deidre Kukucka of the possible school closure. “We don’t. We have been forced to this point.”
Board members have said that dramatic cuts in state aid to the district and new state fiscal mandates — coupled with a decade of budgets that have failed at the polls — have pushed the district to look at new ways to meet its obligations.
But residents have said the district has not looked far enough. And some on Tuesday said closing West Belmar would be shortsighted.
Tom Coyle, an organizer of the Save Wall Township Schools group, said the township is facing the possibility of having to build several hundred homes under state affordable housing laws, if yet-unknown legislation or court rulings do not work in favor of Wall Township.
“Six years from now if you ask for a new school to be built to the tune of $30-40 million, people are not going to want to hear that,’’ Coyle, of Rosewood Drive, said.
Others made impassioned pleas to the board to reconsider keeping the school open.
Jennifer Jones, of Arthur Street, made a tearful speech extolling the attributes of the school, its staff and its positive effect on her children’s lives.
“It is a little school with a big heart,’’ Jones said, flanked by her two children, both pupils at the school. “I implore the board to keep West Belmar School open.”
Not everyone agreed that the board has erred in exploring the school closure.
David Lucas, of Old Farm Road, listed the cuts to the district’s budget as a result of its repeated failure at the polls for the past decade and cited election results as a prime reason the school system finds itself in dire straights.
“We have been underfunding this school district for years,’’ said Lucas, a former board member. “And it has finally coming home to roost.’’
Residents’ concerns and questions were met mostly with the repeated refrain from board members that the T & M study was ongoing and that the board would make no decisions until the results were in.
The study results are due by March, board members have said.