Union County Regional High School District

Union County Regional High School District was a regional public school district that served students in ninth through twelfth grades at four high schools in Union County, New Jersey, United States. Established in 1937 as the state's first regional high school district, conflict between the constituent municipalities about school funding and grievances related to the closure of one of the four schools led to the passage of a referendum for the district's dissolution in May 1996, which took effect at the end of the 1996-97 school year. The Commissioner of the New Jersey Department of Education called Union County Regional "the highest-spending regional high school in the state".[1]


Formation and growthEdit

The district's six participating municipalities -- Berkeley Heights, Clark, Garwood, Kenilworth, Mountainside and Springfield Township -- began class in September 1937 at Jonathan Dayton Regional High School in Springfield, which was named for founding father Jonathan Dayton.[2]

Arthur L. Johnson Regional High School, named for a longtime county superintendent who had advocated for regionalization, opened in September 1956. The school was constructed at a cost of $2 million and included 94,000 square feet (8,700 m2) of space for classes and other facilities.[3]

In September 1960, Governor Livingston Regional High School opened its doors to 800 students from Berkeley Heights and Mountainside. Designed to accommodate an enrollment of 900, projected increases in the numbers of students lead the district to consider a $1.5 million expansion to add capacity for an additional 600 students before the school had even opened.[4]

The name David Brearley Regional High School was chosen in March 1964 to honor David Brearley one of four New Jersey signatories of the Constitution of the United States, along with Jonathan Dayton and William Livingston who had already had high schools in the district named for them.[5] A groundbreaking ceremony was held in May 1964 for the new school facility, which would be the fourth high school in the district and was expected to be the first in the state with air conditioning and electric heating.[6] The school opened to 640 students from Kenilworth in September 1966. The original building contained 40 classrooms, an auditorium with a capacity of 820, a cafeteria with a capacity of 430, a gymnasium with a capacity of 2,000, and offices.[7]


With enrollment declining, costs rising on a per-student basis and budgets being rejected by voters, the district approved a recommendation to close David Brearley and have the students from Garwood and Kenilworth, the two lowest-income communities in the district, be shifted to Jonathan Dayton.[8] In the wake of the closure of David Brearley High School, groups of residents pushed for a measure that would allow for deregionalization of school districts, which was part of legislation introduced in 1993 by Richard Bagger in the New Jersey General Assembly.[9]

By 1993, with nearly three-quarters of all teachers at the top of the salary scale and enrollment having dropped by more than 60% from a peak of 6,000 in 1971, the district was the highest-spending in the state with a cost per pupil of $15,594, which The New York Times noted was "much more than many top private schools charge for tuition".[10] With property taxes being based on equalized value in each municipality and with significant differences in numbers of students from each community, sharp discrepancies developed in the costs per student (school taxes paid divided by the number of students attending high school), with Garwood paying $8,600 per pupil while Mountainside's cost per pupil was more than double that, at $20,000.[11]

In the May 1996 referendum, 55% of ballots cast were in favor of dissolving the district, with "yes" votes prevailing in Berkeley Heights, Kenilworth, Mountainside and Springfield, though 88% of Clark residents and 97% of those from Garwood opposed the measure.[12]

With the district's dissolution in 1997, the four high school facilities owned by the regional district were turned over to the host municipalities, with all four communities becoming K-12 districts. David Brearley High School, which had been closed by the district in 1992 due to declining enrollment and projected cost savings, became part of the Kenilworth Public Schools; Jonathan Dayton High School (which had 629 students from both Kenilworth and Springfield) was added to the Springfield Public Schools; Arthur L. Johnson High School (with 763 students from Clark and Garwood) was taken over by the Clark Public School District; and Governor Livingston High School (with 735 students from Berkeley Heights and Mountainside) shifted to the Berkeley Heights Public Schools. The two remaining communities without school facilities in their borders remained as K-8 districts and established sending/receiving relationships for grades 9-12, with Garwood Public Schools sending to Arthur L. Johnson and Mountainside School District with Governor Livingston.[13][1]


Schools in the district were:

Board of educationEdit

The district was operated by a nine-member board of education with membership apportioned on the basis of municipal populations. Originally, Garwood, Kenilworth, and Springfield had two members each, while Berkeley Heights, Clark, and Mountainside had one member each. Following the 1960 Census, the board was reapportioned with Berkeley Heights and Clark gaining a member while Garwood and Kenilworth lost a member.[14] This apportionment was maintained through the district's dissolution in 1997.


  1. ^ a b Paglia, Bernice. "Stakes high in vote on deregionalization", Courier News, May 13, 1996. Accessed April 28, 2021, via Newspapers.com. "When it comes to changing the way schools operate, proposals on sharing and cost-saving can run head-on into issues of turf, identity and historic grudges. In 1992 the Union County Regional High School District 1 board voted to close one of its four high schools, a move aimed at saving $4 million. That move may come full circle on Tuesday, when voters from six municipalities will decide whether to dissolve the district itself, which state Education Commissioner Leo Klagholz has called 'the highest-spending regional high school in the state.'... Of the 2,127 students in the regional high school district, 629 from Springfield and Kenilworth attend Jonathan Dayton, and 763 mainly from Clark and Garwood attend Arthur L. Johnson, and 735 from Berkeley Heights and Mountainside attend Governor Livingston."
  2. ^ "A Biography: Jonathan Dayton, form whom new regional school is named, figured in Revolution, Congress and civic life", Courier News, June 30, 1937. Accessed April 28, 2021, via Newspapers.com. "Since the Regional Board of Education recently named the new Union County Regional High School, Flemer Avenue, Springfield, the 'Jonathan Dayton Regional High School,' after a Revolutionary hero, prospective students of the school from six county places, and their parents, have sought to know the biography of Jonathan Dayton.... The Jonathan Dayton School will open for occupancy caring for the high school students of Clark Township, Kenilworth, New Providence Township, Garwood, Mountainside and Springfield."
  3. ^ "1,000 Attend Dedication Of Johnson High School Clark", Courier News, December 8, 1956. Accessed April 30, 2021, via Newspapers.com. "More than 1,000 persons turned out last night for the dedication ceremonies of the newly-completed Arthur L. Johnson Regional High School here. Notables in the field of education from state, county and local levels appeared to pay tribute to the late Dr. Arthur L. Johnson, who as county superintendent of schools for 40 years, first conceived the idea of a regional school district.... The building contains 94,000 square feet of floor space with 22 classrooms, and 12 laboratory and arts and crafts rooms which surround the auditorium. The rear wing contains a cafeteria, gymnasium and two shops. Costing $2,000,000, the school building is located on the east corner of the 25-acre tract."
  4. ^ "Board to Propose School Referendum", Courier News, June 29, 1960. Accessed April 30, 2021, via Newspapers.com. "The Board of Education of Union County Regional High School District 1 last night took no further action on the proposed $1,500,000 addition to the Governor Livingston Regional High School in Berkeley Heights, but called a special meeting of the board July 12 to consider a resolution calling for a referendum.... As presently envisaged, the addition would accommodate 600 students. The Governor Livingston Regional High School, which will open its doors this Fall, is built for 900 students. Dr. Jones has said the projected enrollment increases would create an intolerable situation by 1963, if no new facilities were built."
  5. ^ "Name Picked For Regional High School", Courier News, March 25, 1964. Accessed April 29, 2021, via Newspapers.com. "The proposed Union County regional high school in Kenilworth has been named for a New Jersey signer of the U. S. Constitution. The new school which will open in September, 1965 will be called the David Brearley Regional High School. The name was selected last night by the Union County Regional High School Board of Education. Brearley is the third of four signers of the Constitution to have his name on a regional high school. The Jonathan Dayton Regional High School in Springfield and the Governor Livingston Regional High School in Berkeley Heights also are named for signers of the Constitution."
  6. ^ "Groundbreaking Scheduled For New County High School", Courier News, May 21, 1964. Accessed April 29, 2021, via Newspapers.com. "Groundbreaking ceremonies for the new David Brearley Regional High School in Kenilworth will be held at 7 p.m. Tuesday. The school, to be the fourth in the Union County Regional High School system, will be located at Monroe Ave. near 16th St. in Kenilworth.... The new school first in the state to be built with electric heating and air conditioning will open in September 1965."
  7. ^ "First Regular High School Class Starts Sept. 7 at David Brearley", Citizen and Chronicle, September 1, 1966. Accessed April 29, 2021. "David Brearley Regional High School opens its doors to its first regular high school class on Wednesday when the freshman class reports for orientation at 8:20 a.m., John L. Dixey, principal, announced. All students will report on Thursday at 8:20 a.m. A total of 640 students, all from Kenilworth, are enrolled."
  8. ^ Ginsburg, Elisabeth. "'This Town Will Die Without Our School'", The New York Times, June 6, 1993. Accessed April 28, 2021. "And David Brearley Regional High School, which Charles Vitale, a former school board president, calls 'the social and civic hub of the town,' is scheduled to be closed at the end of the 1993 school year.... Socially and economically, Kenilworth and Garwood, whose students also attend Brearley, have little in common with the four other towns in the school district. Kenilworth has a median family income of $45,774, while the wealthiest of the district's towns, Mountainside, has a median family income of $80,699.... The 1992 school budget was passed. Then, in October of that year, Dr. Merachnik presented a 27-page report that recommended, among other things, that Brearley High School's 400 students be 'reassigned' to Jonathan Dayton High School in Springfield."
  9. ^ "Proposal for school to close prompts bill", Courier News, June 22, 1993. Accessed April 28, 2021, via Newspapers.com. "Residents of a regional high school district would have a say in whether the district should be dissolved if a bill the state Assembly approved Monday becomes law. The measure would establish the legal procedures needed to dissolve such a district. It was sponsored by Assemblyman Richard Bagger, R-Westfield. The bill was prompted by the proposed closing of David Brearley Regional High School in Kenilworth, in the Union County Regional High School District. Pupils and their families were annoyed at being excluded from the decision."
  10. ^ Weinstein, Sheryl. "Most Expensive District", The New York Times, December 12, 1993. Accessed April 28, 2021. "The figure is astonishing: $15,594 a student for one year of public high school -- the highest in the state, and much more than many top private schools charge for tuition. How the Union County Regional High School District reached such a dubious distinction reads like a textbook case on the perils of public finance.... Paradoxically, the closing, which lopped off $4 million from the $40.3 million budget, so upset parents and other taxpayers that it also sowed the seeds of the district's possible destruction.... The Union County District was formed in 1937, when six former farm towns created a large comprehensive high school system.... By the 1980's, districtwide enrollment declined to 2,150 from a 1971 high of 6,000."
  11. ^ Assembly Task Force on School District Regionalization; Findings and Recommendations, New Jersey Legislature, February 25, 1999. Accessed April 30, 2021. "Mountainside paid over $20,000 per student while Garwood paid $8,600 because the costs were allocated on the basis of equalized valuation."
  12. ^ Paterno, Vincent. "Voters dissolve regional school district", Courier News, May 15, 1996. Accessed April 30, 2021. "Voters in six Union County municipalities voted Tuesday to dissolve the Union County Regional High School District I, ending a heated battle over the district's future. Voters in Berkeley Heights, Kenilworth, Mountainside and Springfield approved the measure, while Clark and Garwood voted heavily to retain the status quo. The total vote was 10,274 for dissolution and 8,531 against.... Only 42 Garwood residents voted for the split, while 1,697 voted no. Clark also voted no, 4,033 to 536."
  13. ^ Hanley, Robert. "Schools Weigh Impact Of District Breakup", The New York Times, May 16, 1996. Accessed April 28, 2021. "They are Springfield, with Dayton High; Berkeley Heights, with Governor Livingston High; Clark, with Arthur Johnson High, and Kenilworth, with Brearley High, which closed three years ago but will reopen after Commissioner Klagholz sets a date for the formal dissolution. Many expect it will be June 30, 1997. The district's two towns without high school buildings -- Garwood and Mountainside -- will remain kindergarten-to-eighth-grade districts and ship out their high school students. Mountainside's will go to Livingston High in Berkeley Heights."
  14. ^ "2 New Posts To Be Filled On Board". Courier News. December 29, 1961 – via Newspapers.com.