Courage to Connect NJ defends process for assessing possible Cherry Hill-Merchantville consolidation

Letters to the Editor

July 21, 2011 — In a July 17 letter [commenting on Remapping Debate’s earlier article on the hurdles to municipal consolidation in New Jersey], Jeff Podowitz claims the residents of Cherry Hill, New Jersey are being “used” by municipal reformers who advocate a merger between Cherry Hill and neighboring Merchantville. Without explaining the basis for assertions, Mr. Podowitz suggests that Cherry Hill would lose crucial state education aid if it consolidates, thus depriving the community of its “fair share of state funding.” I urge patience before jumping to such bold conclusions.

The fact is, no one knows exactly what effect, if any, consolidation would have on the state aid that Cherry Hill and Merchantville currently enjoy. New Jersey uses an immensely complex formula for determining how much aid each school district receives to fund public education, and it’s impossible to know whether and to what extent a municipal merger would change funding levels until someone actually runs the numbers.

Thankfully, it won’t be long until we know the answer. State law requires that, long before a proposed consolidation ever goes on the ballot, a “study commission” made up of local residents examine the potential impacts of the merger, including any possible effects on local school aid. At the end of this process, the commission releases its findings to the public, allowing voters to review all relevant information before voting on a final consolidation referendum. If Trenton approves the creation of a study commission for the proposed Cherry Hill-Merchantville merger — as it is expected to do in mid-August 2011 — then residents are likely to have an answer about school funding sometime in 2012.

So long story short, the data that Mr. Podowitz demands is coming shortly. It would be irresponsible to ask voters to consider a consolidation without first providing them information on the impact on their towns’ school aid. Thankfully, the law takes this into account as part of the study process.

At Courage to Connect NJ, we hope to correct misunderstandings and inaccuracies about the consolidation process so that public debate on the issue is open, honest, and informed. We encourage residents and local officials to contact us with any questions they have about this often-confusing issue.

— Andrew Bruck, Board Member, Courage to Connect NJ, Long Hill Township, New Jersey


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