The West Milford Board of Education unanimously voted Dec. 18 to move the incoming sixth grade class of about 250 students to Macopin Middle School starting in September 2020.
Outgoing Board Member Will Cytowicz abstained.
“Last night at the Board of Education meeting, the board voted to move the sixth grade class (current fifth graders) to Macopin School in September, 2020; the presentation from last evening can be found on our website,” Schools Superintendent Alex Anemone said in a statement to parents on Dec. 19. “Though this realignment has been investigated for over 30 years, we most recently began discussing this in June and formed multiple sub-committees to discuss specific areas (academic, scheduling, transportation, etc.) that needed additional review. The sub-committees finished their work in early December and a recommendation to make this transition was made by me at the meeting last night.”
The district currently has six Elementary schools for grades K-6, Macopin Middle School for grades seven and eight, and West Milford High School for grades 9-12.
Board members said the move will not cause the closing of any existing school.
A brief history of reorganization, redistricting, restructuring, grade realignment, demographics, and enrollment prediction reports spanning over 30 years’ time from studies done by the district, by district committees, and by outside agencies hired by the district, were noted during a presentation on the issue at the meeting.
The most recent reports were from a 2019 Enrollment Projection and Demographic Study, and the data-driven recommendations of the 2019-2020 Macopin Grade Level Configuration Committee, which formed last June.
The committees met throughout the summer and fall to look at the issue and planned for Anemone to report its findings to the board in December.
A final vote by the board was first scheduled for January, according to the presentation.
The purpose of the committee as a whole was to determine if sixth grade can be moved to Macopin, if they should be moved, and if it was in the best interests of the students to do so.
The vote on the recommendation was to be held by January 2020.
The sub-committees were tasked to investigate and report back on such subjects as: curriculum and academics; changes to staffing and master schedule, inclusive of special education; social-emotional learning concerns and opportunities; operational issues such as lunch, lockers, etc.; facility use and availability; transportation; and the fiscal ramifications of such a move.
Following its research, including mandated standards for instruction, special needs requirements, transportation concerns, teacher requirements, site visits/reviews of other nearby school districts (Kinnelon, Madison, Montclair, Randolph) for consultation and consideration, and more; the committee recommended that sixth grade students should be moved to Macopin, and the move would be in the best interest of the students.
According to the presentation, the current Macopin schedule would remain unchanged with “Straight 8” periods, including seven core and elective classes and a lunch/flex/art/chorus period.
Transportation would continue as is, with two-tier bussing of PK-5 and 6-12.
No changes to special education bus routes are anticipated, however, it will be an earlier start time for all of the sixth grade students, according to the presentation.
A "Late bus" (3:30 p.m.) is offered three days per week (Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday) to accommodate students for after school activities or staying for "extra help" with teachers if needed.
Changes at the school would involve a second register and second cafeteria worker to expedite Macopin
lunch periods, approximately 40 extra hallway lockers for students, shared gym lockers, and potentially a need to move some classroom furniture, equipment, computers, etc., from elementary schools to Macopin.
The Fiscal Sub-Committee determined there could be a reduction of 2.0 full-time elementary positions for a cost savings of $150,000.
According to the presentation, "All other cost increases or decreases are minor."
The presentation noted that the existing K-5 schools would benefit from the move, according to the committee report.
The PowerPoint slides of the presentation with the detailed information shared at the meeting are available to download and view via link on the district website homepage at www.wmtps.org.
The motion to vote on the recommendation that evening was made by outgoing Trustee Debbie O'Brien, with the support of the majority of the other board members.
Concerns were debated regarding waiting until January to vote, leaving the decision to the "new" school board members that take their seats in January (and were present in the audience) being left to make the decision that they had stated just prior to elections that they needed more information and data to make such a decision about.
A few sitting board members expressed concerns regarding the timing of the vote.
Cytowicz stated that he would abstain from a vote at this time since he believed incoming trustees should make the decision.
The board will have three new members at its next meeting.
Trustees Kate Romeo and Ray Guarino raised concerns that residents did not have the chance to comment on the matter during the first public comments portion of the meeting, since the recommendation was not listed on the agenda.
It was noted by Trustee Nicole Fritz that the message from the Superintendent stated that "action may be taken" on the matter at this meeting.
Board President Lynda VanDyk said that the sitting board members have all the information, and know how they are going to vote, and that even if the three incoming board members disagreed, which it didn't appear would be the case, it would not change the results of the vote of the majority.
Thus, delaying the vote another month was unnecessary and would only serve to delay the plans and preparations that the schools, administrators and PTA's need to begin as soon as possible.
The Board’s Attorney said that the matter could legally be revisited by the school board via a motion in January if deemed necessary.
A few parents did speak on the matter.
One voiced concerns about "rushing it,” and suggesting waiting until 2021 to implement the move.
Others that spoke said they, and their kids, were in favor and excited about the move.
“Though this realignment has been investigated for over 30 years, we most recently began discussing this in June and formed multiple sub-committees to discuss specific areas (academic, scheduling, transportation, etc.) that needed additional review. The sub-committees finished their work in early December and a recommendation to make this transition was made by me at the meeting last night.” - District Superintendent Alex Anemone