Looking to find ways to save money amid decreasing state aid over the next five years, the Vernon Township School District Board of Education discussed the possibility of closing Cedar Mountain Primary School.
Under what Business Administrator Steve Kepnes called “Proposal A”, the school’s kindergartners and first graders would be moved to Walnut Ridge School, which currently houses the district’s preschool program and the district administration.
“We’ve done it,” Kepnes said of moving Cedar Mountain’s students to Walnut Ridge. “We know they fit. They were doing extremely well in Walnut Ridge.”
Kepnes’ analysis indicated the district could save $559,500 per year by closing the building and that doesn’t take into account possible revenue from either selling or renting out the building.
School board member Kelly Mitchell suggested renting the building would be preferable to closing it in the event the district’s declining enrollment reverses.
“If enrollment increases and then we don’t have a building at all, then we have the opposite problem,” she said.
Moving Cedar Mountain’s 403 students to Walnut Ridge would also displace the school district’s administration, which has been working out of the building since the district sold the Board of Education office on Route 94.
Mitchell questioned Kepnes’ calculation and said the savings could be about $400,000 when school board vice president Justin Annunziata reiterated that the savings would be annual.
No one at the table wanted the building to remain vacant, but school board president Brad Sparta said he was advocating closing the building whether or not it has a buyer or renter.
“It would be great if it was leased or sold, but we still can’t snub our nose at $400,000 or $500,000,” Sparta said. “if it doesn’t sell, then over 10 years that’s a $4 million savings.”
This is is the second time in four years the Board of Education has discussed closing Cedar Mountain. In 2015, under former Superintendent Art DiBennedetto, the district considered sending grades 2 and 3 to to Lounsberry Hollow and sending grades 4-7 to Glen Meadow High School, and sending grades 8-12 to Vernon Township High School, but parents objected to that plan and it was eventually scrapped.
“I think people are anxious because our district has been through a lot and there is still a lot of rawness from the wounds over what’s going on over the past few years,” Superintendent Karen D’Avino said. “I don’t like the idea of closing the school, but if it saves jobs, I’d rather displace than non-renew.”
Annunziata said the students have to be the priority and the board has to look at any way to save money, but the needs of the students need to come first.
“If we’re manufacturing young adults, and if we can manufacture them in four buildings instead of five, we have to be fiscally responsible,” school board member Mark Cilli said.
Board members stressed that nothing has been decided and Sparta said he foresees this being discussed at every meeting going forward.
“I think people are anxious because our district has been through a lot and there is still a lot of rawness from the wounds over what’s going on over the past few years. I don’t like the idea of closing the school, but if it saves jobs, I’d rather displace than non-renew.”
Vernon Township School District Superintendent