Over the next several years, as Brick Township’s school system will gradually lose $23 million in state funding, schools may be subject to closure or “reconfiguration,” officials said, as the Board of Education considered the acceptance of a $38,000 playground for Herbertsville Elementary School Thursday night.
The board ultimately approved the playground, which was the result of multiple years of fundraising efforts by parents and students, some of whom have already moved on to middle school. The years-long effort to fund a new playground brought dozens of Herbertsville residents and members of the school’s PTA to the board meeting, urging the seven-member body to approve the playground. The PTA had previously been told by officials that the playground may not have been allowed to be built because of the uncertainty of the school operating after the 2019-20 school year due to the district’s declining financial health.
School officials had also apparently advised the PTA that about $6,000 should be left in an escrow account to be saved in case the playground equipment needed to be moved in the future, but that path was not favored by the school community. Parents took Thursday’s meeting as an opportunity not only to lobby for the playground donation to be accepted, but to speak in opposition to the school facing closure. Some parents even said they moved to their current neighborhood specifically so their children could attend Herbertsville School, which has long been considered one of the district’s most highly-regarded schools.
“We have pinched our pennies, baked, borrowed, auctioned and begged,” said Herbertsville parent Brenn Swanson, of the fundraising effort. “It’s been a long journey over four years for a small school like this to come up with this money.”
The parents said the school community at Herbertsville is particularly close – “the small school with the big heart” – as one described it. The dedication to the playground project was evidence of the school’s unique value in the community, they said.
“It is no small feat that year after year, Herbertsville students came together to raise money for a new playground,” said Cindy Cory of Paramount Way.
Kelly Tobin, another parent, said closing the school would “uproot the community.”
“We hope this will be a last, or dire, option, and we want to see Herbertsville stay in our community,” Tobin added.
James Edwards, the district’s business administrator, said there have not been any decisions made on whether schools will have to be closed in the future. Another option that will be considered, potentially as an alternative to closures, is “reconfiguring” the district’s schools. In that scenario, the grade levels of the elementary and middle schools could change in order to better balance class sizes across the student population if staff is reduced. Stafford Township’s school district took that step as a cost-saving measure.
Though the issue of potential school closures in the future came to light inadvertently by way of the donation discussion, officials urged parents district-wide to come to school board meetings to share their concerns and with ideas on how the district can cope with the funding crisis. Edwards previously told Shorebeat that if a PTA at another school had a large donation to offer, they would have been told the same as the Herbertsville parents.
Edwards did say Thursday that officials are focusing on generating new income sources and maintaining services rather than looking to cut schools or programs.
“We really need to be looking first at where we can replace the revenue,” he said.