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Guttenberg weighs sending 7th and 8th graders to North Bergen

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Article from NJ.COM

Wednesday night’s meeting of the Guttenberg Board of Education drew an unusually large crowd for the modest district of 1,015 students in grade pre-K though 8.

And while the main order of business was a public hearing on the district’s $18 million budget for the 2017-18 school year, that’s not what drew most of the 30 attendees to the cafeteria of the Anna L. Klein School, the district’s one and only building.

Rather, several people in the crowd were opponents of a proposal now being weighed by the board to send the district’s 7th and 8th graders to North Bergen, at a cost of about $2 million a year in tuition.

“Don’t do it,” former student Diana Sanchez, a 31-year-old molecular biologist at Montclair State University, urged the board, recalling the middle school science teacher who inspired her to become a scientist.

The proposal came from North Bergen school officials, and would correspond to a  district-wide reconfiguration in North Bergen scheduled to take effect in September 2019. That reconfiguration includes a move into a new North Bergen High School, configured for students in grades 10-12, and the creation of a new junior high school for grades 7-9.

North Bergen’s new high school will be housed in the old Hudson County High Tech High School, which the township will purchase for about $20 million, reimbursed by the school district.

Guttenberg students already end up in North Bergen, though not until high school, under a sending-receiving relationship that dates back to the 1960’s. The current proposal amounts to an expansion of that relationship by two additional grades.

But the proposal is opposed by some members of the Guttenberg school community, including the Guttenberg Federation of Teachers union, whose membership could lose a dozen jobs or more under the plan.

North Bergen voters to decide on $52 school tax hike

Among the district’s rising costs are teachers salaries, which are going up 9 percent over three years under a recent contract agreement.

 

“We are concerned about how economically feasible this is to pay tuition to North Bergen to send our middle schoolers and pay for the addition to the  Anna L. Klein School,” the union’s president, Elaine Heflich, said in a statement.

Heflich added that parents were concerned about the prospect of their middle school-age children having to cross Kennedy Boulevard.

Opponents include Guttenberg’s own superintedent of schools, Michelle Rosenberg, who questioned why the district would want to shed about 225 students — and pay North Bergen millions to do it — just as the Klein school is nearing completion of a $20 million addition that contains a new gym and a dozen new classrooms, including three science labs specifically for 7th and 8th graders.

The board was not scheduled for any action on the proposal Wednesday night, and none was taken. But its president, William Holkien, read a statement he had prepared in order to “clarify” opponents’ concerns.

“We were approached by North Bergen regarding the possibilities about moving our 7th and 8th graders to their school system. This is why I formed a committee to gather all the information and analyze what would be in the best interest academically and the fiscal impact on our school and the town.”

North Bergen’s director of elementary and secondary education, Nicholas Sacco, who also serves as the township’s mayor and state senator, said his district would have been “remiss” not to have made the offer, which he believes makes sense educationally and financially for Guttenberg.

Sacco said Guttenberg students would benefit from enhanced facilities and broader opportunities at the newly created North Bergen Junior High School. And, Sacco said, Guttenberg taxpayers would save on the high cost of special education services, which Guttenberg contracts for, but which North Bergen provides in-house.

“We made the offer,” Sacco said, adding that North Bergen would not see a net benefit from Guttenberg’s tuition money. “It’s their decision whether the want to come here.”

With a total of 7,800 students in grades pre-K through 12, North Bergen is huge compared to Guttenberg. And the proposal has been opposed by fans of the Klein school’s family-like atmosphere, who say many of Guttenberg teenage students already complain of feeling lost at North Bergen High School. They say sending students to the larger district at an even younger age would be more traumatic.

Jenna Lanzaro, an 8th grade language arts teacher who spoke at Wednesday’s board meeting, recalled her first year on the job, when she was watching some of her students play in a youth soccer game on a weekend, an entirely unofficial activity she did on her own time, but one common among Guttenberg teachers. While at the game, Lanzaro said she got a call from her surprised mother.

“‘It’s Saturday. Is that normal?'” Lanzaro, who lives in Jersey City, recalled her mother asking. And it was, Lanzaro said, at least in Guttenberg.

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