Asbury Park Press - Forced school consolidation is off the table…Some areas still pursuing plans to trim districts
6:11 AM, Apr. 24, 2012 | Written by Jason Method, Statehouse Bureau
TRENTON — A statewide effort to force school districts to consolidate officially has been tabled, but at least one county is still moving ahead with a plan to trim back on local districts.
The consolidation plans had been authorized under an earlier state law and initially carried out under then Gov. Jon Corzine’s administration. But acting Education Commissioner Christopher Cerf acknowledged Monday they were on hold.
“A preliminary plan was generated. Essentially, (the task force) came back and said, this is what it would take to get it to the next level, and it involved a substantial infusion of funds,” Cerf told an Assembly committee. “It basically went nowhere.”
One lawmaker, Assemblyman John Burzichelli, D-Gloucester, wanted to know why the program was ignored. “So the law as adopted and signed, and it’s simply set aside?” he asked.
“Additional work needs to be done, and that was not done,” Cerf answered.
Under the Corzine administration, consolidation among smaller districts had been a highly publicized goal. In 2007, legislation stipulated that consolidation plans were to be submitted by executive county superintendents by March 2010.
Those executive county superintendents had their powers expanded so they could review local budgets and promote the sharing of services.
But the effort languished as local superintendents often resisted the move and parents argued about the value of their local districts. The amount of money spent on preparation following the 2007 legislation was not immediately available.
Michael Vrancik, who represents the New Jersey School Boards Association, said consolidation raised difficult issues. A state law requires teachers in a newly consolidated school district to get paid according to the higher of the contracts involved, which raised costs. There also remain problems about who would pay the debt on schools that had been constructed.
Joseph F. Passiment, Jr., interim executive county superintendent for Monmouth County, said in an interview he wasn’t in a hurry for consolidation plans to move forward.
“We’re taking a look at the educational process, teacher reforms, the new core curriculum content standards … the new regional achievement centers,” Passiment said, referring to the field-based centers that will work with low-performing schools and those with significant achievement gaps. “We have more pressing needs in education right now.”
But in Hunterdon County, however, state and local officials are working on consolidation anyway.
State education spokesman Justin Barra said that 12 districts in north Hunterdon County were conducting a feasibility study to see if they could share special education services.
Meanwhile, five districts in south Hunterdon County were considering a K-12 regionalization, Barra added.
Hunterdon County Freeholder Director Rob Walton said he and Raritan Township Committeeman John King, who is running for a seat of his own on the Board of Freeholders this year, are moving forward with their plans to urge local lawmakers to examine whether consolidation of educational services makes sense in the Garden State’s wealthiest county.
Press of Atlantic City - Vocational schools becoming more popular, must turn away hundreds who apply for admission, 4-25-12
by Diane D'Amico, Contact :609-272-7241
By the Numbers: Vocational high schools
Chart shows full-time and shared-time enrollment of high school students at area vocational schools and the tuition charged back to their hometown school districts. Students attend at no cost to their families.
Atlantic County Institute of Technology
Enrollment (full time): 675
Enrollment (shared time): 254
Current tuition: $5,343
Tuition for 2012-13: $5,450
Cape May County Technical High School
Enrollment (full time): 559
Enrollment (shared time): 125
Tuition (full time): $6,451
Tuition 2011-12 (shared time): $3,226
Tuition for 2012-13: No change
Cumberland County Technical Education Center
Enrollment (shared time): 522
Tuition 2011-12 (shared time): $765
Tuition 2012-13 (shared time): No change
Ocean County Vocational Technical School
Enrollment (full time): 444
Enrollment (shared time): 1,968
Tuition (full time): $500
Tuition (shared time): None
· Related: Students share reasons for choosing vocational high schools
Posted: Tuesday, April 24, 2012 1:15 am | Updated: 7:11 am, Tue Apr 24, 2012.
Atlantic and Cape May counties’ vocational high schools are turning away hundreds of students as the demand for comprehensive, career-driven education has grown.
Expansion into full-time programs has made vocational schools more popular but also more controversial, as admission policies and limited space mean not every student who wants to attend is admitted. Public schools officials say the technical schools’ success is misleading because of their ability to hand-pick students.
Application numbers show how selective the schools have become: More than 600 students, about 18 percent of the county’s eighth-graders, have applied for about 400 spots in the Atlantic County Institute of Technology’s freshman class in September, making the school as competitive as some state colleges. And more than 400 students, more than 40 percent of the county’s eighth-graders, typically apply for 150 freshmen seats at Cape May County Technical High School.
Statewide, more than twice as many students apply to county vocational high schools as there are seats to accommodate them, even as enrollment has grown from almost 25,000 students in 2000 to 31,425 this year, data from the New Jersey Council of County Vocational Schools and the state Department of Education show.
Parents see vocational high schools as a way for their children to learn a skill that can lead to a job after graduation.
“If parents can’t afford college, this is a way to get a jump-start on a career in high school,” said Judy Savage, executive director of the New Jersey Council of County Colleges.
“I learned skills I can use for the rest of my life,” said Christopher Hawryluk, of Port Republic, a senior at the ACIT Culinary Academy. His family is in food service, but he’s off to Rutgers University to major in biology, the first step toward a planned medical career.
Developed decades ago to provide part-time training in areas such as automotive repair and building trades, vocational schools now host full-time, project-based programs in fields such as engineering, marine science and performing arts designed to prepare students for both jobs and college.
ACIT opened a $40 million expansion in September and is transitioning to primarily full-time programs. Only Cumberland and Hunterdon counties still have exclusively shared-time programs in which students attend for half the day, though Cumberland is still researching options to become full time, Superintendent Dina Elliott said. Statewide, full-time enrollment has increased from 15,583 in 2000 to 24,148 this year, while shared-time enrollment has dropped from 9,193 to 7,277 over the same period.
Academic demands of the federal No Child Left Behind law were a driving force behind efforts to become comprehensive high schools, vocational school officials said. Elliott said it is a challenge for students to meet the requirements of traditional and vocational high schools, and Cumberland has taken steps such as integrating math into all areas so that students can earn academic credits in their vocational program.
The comprehensive, full-time programs have earned schools recognition. Eleven of the 21 county vocational schools had one or more of their full-time programs included on the state Department of Education’s new list of high-performing “reward” schools released this month, including those in Atlantic, Cape May and Ocean counties. School officials said that reflects the programs and staff and the students who make a choice to attend a vocational school.
Others say that while they support vocational schools, it is unfair to hold them up as a model to traditional public schools.
“(Traditional high schools) don’t get to select who attends, or they’d all be high-performing,” said Maripat Perone, a former member of the Greater Egg Harbor Regional High School Board of Education.
Administrators said criticism that the schools take only the best students from traditional high schools is untrue. While they cannot enroll based on race or income, state education data indicate they typically reflect their counties with a representative number of minority, low-income and special education students.
ACIT also runs the county alternative high school and will begin a new Pathways career program in September for students with disabilities that includes training in culinary, fashion and retail, construction, automotive and health fields.
Phil Guenther, superintendent of ACIT and president of the New Jersey Council of County Vocational Schools, said some admissions requirements are necessary.
“We are asking students to take on both the regular academic work and the classes for their career academy,” he said. “They have to be motivated. They have to be able to do the work. And we are putting students in classrooms with knives and construction equipment. For safety reasons, we can’t admit students who have a history of behavioral problems.”
For that reason, the schools have earned a reputation for being safe, a prime factor for parents. Several students interviewed said it was their parents who first suggested looking into the vocational high school.
But Guenther said they advise parents not to push a child who doesn’t want to attend because they are more likely to fail. About 20 or 30 students a year will leave ACIT for various reasons.
“To say that they want to come here because they don’t want to go to their hometown high school is the wrong reason,” said Nancy Hudanich, assistant superintendent at Cape May County Technical High School. She has worked in the Middle Township school district and said a primary difference is that vocational schools have to market themselves, and students have to show an interest to be admitted.
“We’ve had prospective freshmen show up with baked goods to show they are really interested in baking,” Hudanich said.
The federal government is also showing interest in vocational schools. On Thursday, the U.S. Department of Education released a Blueprint for Transforming Career and Technical Information that focuses on linking programs to the job market and creating partnerships with employers, something local schools already try to do through internships, advisory boards and project-based learning.
Cumberland will add two new high school programs in September, a computer-integrated manufacturing program and a pharmacy technician program that will prepare students for the national certification exam.
Savage said that while they support the concepts and goals, they are concerned about whether funding will be available to achieve the goals.
School officials also said some vocational programs would be just too expensive for most high schools to offer, but they work on a countywide level. Vocational schools are funded by a combination of state aid, funds from county government, tuition charged to the students’ hometown school districts and federal funds from the Carl D. Perkins Vocational and Technical Education Act.
“We can offer something that a regular high school might not have enough student interest to justify,” said William Hoey Jr., superintendent of the Ocean County Vocational School, which offers performing arts and marine and environmental science academies.