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Baby steps

Elimination of New Jersey’s 26 “non-operating” school districts is worth celebrating.

A school district without schools is the absurd culmination of New Jersey's brand of microscopic government.

Confronted with the concept of school districts — complete with school boards and administrators — that do not actually educate anyone, many are unable to suppress a snicker.

So the elimination of New Jersey's 26 "non-operating" school districts is worth celebrating. It's a small but meaningful victory against nonsense. And New Jersey's nonsense lobby shouldn't be underestimated.

Twenty-seven legislators actually voted against the bill eliminating the non-operating districts. The New Jersey School Boards Association suggested putting the matter to the voters. The business administrator of Pemberton Borough's zero-school district warned darkly of further consolidation efforts.

The notion of runaway consolidation is laughable. A legislative study first recommended eliminating the non-operating districts in 1969. Forty years later, Gov. Corzine signed the bill. Even when it's completed, New Jersey will still have 590 school districts.

The savings as well as the complications will multiply when it comes to dissolving districts with one or two schools. The state has many small towns that share regional middle and high school districts, but maintain their own one- or two-school elementary districts. Corzine administration officials say those should become unified, K-12 districts. They're right.

The practical effects of the current consolidation will be small. The non-operating districts spend a total of $1.2 million a year on administration. That will be absorbed by the districts already educating their students.

In Camden County, for example, dissolving 0.2-square-mile Audubon Park's district is expected to save only about $40,000 a year. Its 133 students will continue to be educated in the three-school district of neighboring Audubon Borough.

Another Camden County district being eliminated is Tavistock, which sends a total of one student to Haddonfield.
Tavistock, a borough of 26 residents, seems to have been formed mainly so that members of its country club could avoid local ordinances prohibiting them from playing golf on Sundays and enjoying a Tom Collins.

Many New Jersey towns and school districts came into being for similarly frivolous reasons. Now the state has taken a surprisingly difficult step toward acknowledging that there aren't many good reasons to keep them all around.