Lakehurst residents expressed concerns that their children and community may suffer if administrators decide to send high school students to Jackson instead of Manchester.
The findings of a feasibility study commissioned by the borough's Board of Education was presented at the body's meeting Tuesday night. Though the study indicates that a switch from Manchester to Jackson could save Lakehurst residents on their tax bills without impacting education, many parents in attendance said that they are against the potential change.
"Let's not change something that's not broken," said Manapaqua Avenue resident Brenda Applegate, one of many who spoke against the possibility during the meeting's public comment portion.
The 52-page report, prepared by Puleio and Strimple Associates and JP Savedoff and Associates, was released on the Lakehurst Board of Education website Monday morning and outlines the impact to Lakehurst, Jackson and Manchester should the borough change schools and end a 36-year sending-receiving relationship.
, though that township's superintendent of schools said in a letter to Patch on Tuesday that the study does not offer a fair comparison as it uses a per pupil cost figure that is too high.
While Jackson would offer more courses and co-curricular opportunities, both schools "compare favorably" with their district factor groups on the HSPA and SAT tests and provide a safe environment for students, the report finds.
The report authors explained these points to those in attendance before the floor was opened to public comment. Some parents who spoke said that, despite the projected tax savings they would rather have their children attend high school in Manchester, about 2 miles from the borough.
"Personally, I don't think that Manchester is an issue," said Chestnut Street resident Laura Hanily, a parent with one child in Manchester Township High School and three more who would one day attend there. "I really think you have to take everything into consideration — the whole big picture. I'm in for Manchester."
A parent questioned whether the 7-mile distance from Lakehurst to Jackson Liberty might make it more difficult to coordinate transportation to extracurricular events and activities, a situation that might cause students to miss out on opportunities and potentially get into trouble while they remain home.
"What are these kids going to be doing around Lakehurst?" asked Elm Street resident Bobbie Seidel.
Another parent questioned safety from the borough to the high school on Route 547, a two-lane, bending road where last week two Jackson teenage sisters were killed in a head-on crash.
The larger Jackson Liberty may also present fewer chances for Lakehurst's high school students to gain a spot on sports teams, said Kenneth Palmer, president of the Manchester Township Educational Foundation.
Board members did not have answers to all the questions at the meeting, but they said that comments and questions will be taken into consideration — a running list of issues was kept. Board Vice President Kevin Oliver said that members were thankful that parents came to the meeting to offer feedback, most of which were concerns that administrators had not yet considered.
"These are the things we want to know. We want you to come to us with your concerns," he said.
Concerns with the study itself were also brought up. Busing and resource room fees were not included in the study because they have to be determined, the board said, but they will be taken into account before any decision is made.
The district's business administrator Barry Parliman said that the investigation into the switch has "never been about the dollars.
"This could lead to even more communication with Manchester over the cost of tuition and trust us that I think this board has had nothing but the community's well-being in mind," he said.
Despite the possible change of schools, Lakehurst's relationship with Manchester remains good.
"Please be assured, our lines of communication are very, very open, warm, friendly and professional at this point," Parliman said.
Oliver said that the study is something that "will get their attention."
"We have one seat on Manchester's board," Oliver said, adding that the one vote does not carry much weight. "But we do have $2 million that we send them."
Lakehurst Superintendent of Schools Jill Dobrowansky said that she has been in regular contact with administrators in both Manchester and Jackson regarding the potential switch.
"Those conversations are ongoing," she said.
The board has until Dec. 1 to make a decision should they want to begin the process of changing schools and have it completed for 2013-14. Board members anticipate voting on the issue at their Nov. 20 regular meeting.
"It's a possibility that we'll be making a decision," board President JoAnn Septor said.
If the board decide to make the switch, Lakehurst students attending MTHS at the time of the decision would be able to choose to finish their secondary education in Manchester or transfer to Jackson. Board members warned the process may take a substantial amount of time.