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Pinelands Regional considering shared superintendent

Pinelands Regional considering shared superintendent

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LITTLE EGG HARBOR TOWNSHIP — In a move to save money and fill a longstanding vacancy, the Pinelands Regional School District is hoping the state will approve a shared superintendent.

For the past two years, Pinelands Regional has been without permanent school leadership. Last week, the school board announced plans to seek a shared-services agreement with an undisclosed local district.

Board of Education President Susan Ernst did not disclose any specifics of the proposed agreement during the meeting broadcast on YouTube at Pinelands Regional Junior High School. Ernst was not available via phone Thursday for comment.

During the meeting, Ernst said she sent an email to the Ocean County executive superintendent requesting approval for shared services. She said the email contained details of how the arrangement would work on a daily basis, including time allotment and comparison of enrollment of other combined school districts.

“We discussed the relationships that are formed in this community between the four sending districts,” Ernst said in the video.

She said they also talked about the benefits of shared use of facilities, continuity of educational programs, “which is paramount,” and continuity of an educational philosophy.

The Pinelands Regional Board of Education serves students in grades seven through 12 from Little Egg Harbor Township, Tuckerton and Eagleswood Township in Ocean County and Bass River Township in Burlington County. The approximately 1,580 students are currently in split sessions as repairs continue on the high school roof.

One name that has been floated for the shared superintendent position is Little Egg Harbor Township Superintendent Melissa McCooley. McCooley could not be reached Thursday for comment.

Bass River Township is also in the midst of a superintendent search. Ocean County interim Executive County Superintendent Judith DeStefano-Anen would have to approve the plan before it goes to the state commissioner of education, according to Ernst. DeStefano-Anen was not available for comment Thursday, but according to her secretary she is recused from dealing with issues related to Little Egg Harbor Township. The secretary indicated the Burlington County superintendent would take over in that case.

According to an email from Ernst shared by a parent last week, she wrote that the shared-services plan could result in a “combined savings of close to $800,000 over the next four years.”

During last week’s meeting, Ernst talked about a push from Gov. Phil Murphy to expand shared services.

“We need to begin to become a little more fiscally responsible,” she said.

According to Ernst, Pinelands already has a large number of shared-services agreements, including for busing, IT and Business Administrator Stephen Brennan. Brennan is also employed by the Ocean Gate, Eagleswood Township and Stafford Township school districts, according to his school ethics disclosure form.

“We are sharing everywhere we possibly can,” Ernst said.

The Pinelands district, which last month decided to move forward with a plan to close the high school for the next school year to complete a second phase of a $53 million rehabilitation project, has not had a superintendent for almost two years. Former interim Superintendent Maryann Banks, of Toms River, was hired for the 2016-17 school year as the interim superintendent, replacing Robert Blake, who resigned in 2016.

In December, after the high school closed in the fall when a screw from the roof work fell on a student, Banks resigned and Director of Curriculum Cheryl Stevenson was appointed acting superintendent.

Meanwhile, the district is undergoing a permanent superintendent search with help from the New Jersey School Boards Association.

Stevenson will serve as acting superintendent until June 30, as per her contract.

Ernst said Monday the school district is looking to move ahead with the shared-services agreement as soon as possible to remove the current strain on the district having Stevenson serve a dual role.

Contact: 609-272-7251 CLowe@pressofac.com Twitter @clairelowe

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Staff Writer

I began covering South Jersey in 2008 after graduating from Rowan University with a degree in journalism. I joined The Press in 2015. In 2013, I was awarded a NJPA award for feature writing as a reporter for The Current of Hamilton Township.

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