Board of Education: there may be a new high school in Sparta's near future

| 28 Sep 2011 | 02:14

    Sparta-The Sparta Public School Board will soon consider building a new high school. In March, the board beckoned all members of the Sparta community to help find a solution to student overpopulation issues. Sixty-five residents responded, and began meeting every Wednesday night for several hours until the end of the school year late last month. Known as the Community Facilities Task force, the group is comprised of senior citizens, stay-at-home parents, retirees, pre-school parents, as well as parents of students in private schools. In their 13 weeks of research, they visited all of the schools while both in and out of session, and formed sub-committees to deal with different aspects of school overcrowding. By late June, they had all gathered to discuss their findings, and determined a new high school to be the township's best course of action. "I learned a lot about what was going on in our schools," said one task force member and Sparta resident Jonathan Rush last week. "It became evident that something needed to be done." According to school Superintendent Dr. Thomas Morton, the committee decision for the new school was only the beginning of a series of events needed before the new facility could actually be built. "The board will take this recommendation for a high school and do with it what they will," said Morton. "The board can accept, decline, or modify the recommendation." He added that even if the board agreed with the task force's recommendation, it would then have to hire an architect and find land before a new school could be further considered. In the meantime, members of the community would be invited to share their thoughts with the board about how the new school should proceed. "The task force wanted to see it on the ballot as soon as possible," said Morton noting that the school population is growing by 100 students every year. He explained that the State of New Jersey takes a minimum of six months to review a proposal to build a new school. Between the board, architect, community input, and the state, he said that the earliest the new school could possibly be put on the ballot would be sometime next year. "If it is approved, it would still take two and one half years after that to build it," said Morton. According to the research Rush found as a task force member, four out of five of district's schools are "bursting at the seams" with students. "The town is still growing," said Rush. "We are close to going over capacity everywhere except the middle school." Having lived in Sparta for the past seven years, and having two daughters in the public school system, Rush invites all interested members of the community to contact the school board to receive a hard copy document of the task force research. "The idea of forming the committee was a productive process," said Rush. "We feel that this recommendation will solve our problems well into the future." He said that being on the committee was a real "eye opener," and emphasized this is just the first step in dealing with overcrowding issues. During their weeks of data collecting, the task force toyed with over 13 possible suggestions before making the determination to build the new school. Other possibilities included building additions to all or some of the schools, doing nothing, as well as a variety of other new school and ideas to build additions. After the dust settled, the task force maintained that a new high school, combined with a re-configuration of the existing high school to handle elementary school population was the best course of action. The school board will have an opportunity to further discuss the district's options at their next meeting on July 19.