The West Milford Township School District Board of Education on Tuesday voted to repurpose the Westbrook Elementary School into Highlander Academy, an inclusive special education program.
The Restructuring Committee recommended changing the Westbrook School, starting in 2023-24 school year, into an academy for two separate Emotional Regulation Impairment programs, one for middle schoolers and the other for high schoolers. This recommendation requires county approval.
Current Westbrook students would go to the other elementary schools, and some students at the other elementary schools could have their placements changed, as well.
According to the Restructuring Committee report, the district cannot afford to operate eight schools plus the Highlander Academy.
A letter to the community from Superintendent of Schools Alex Anemone said the restructuring effort started in April due to a “dramatic and ongoing” reduction in state aid.
The district has lost just under $8 million in state aid since the 2018-19 school year, and expects to lose more than $2 million more by the time the cuts end in 2024-25, a total of more than $10 million.
District enrollment has dropped from over 4,600 students in 2002-03 to slightly above 3,000 students in 2022-23.
For the past six years, the incoming Kindergarten class has averaged 210 students. Future classes are projected to be a similar size. The district population is expected to stabilize at about 2,600 students.
Under the plan, Highlander Academy will be used for the middle and high school programs, which will occupy different wings of the building, and electives will be offered to high school students at West Milford High School, who can access it through the walking path.
Westbrook also will be used as a hub for home-instruction services.
The plan will increase enrollment at the remaining K-5 schools, but all buildings will remain within capacity. The district emphasized that an effort will be made to keep neighborhoods together where possible.