I was describing the events leading up to Bridgewater-Raritan’s “Roof Suit” battle–the community fight about additions and improvements to the old High School West.
As I mentioned in my earlier post, the need to merge Bridgewater’s two high schools became apparent in the early 1980’s. But as a result of petty politicking, and the desire of some political families in the township to use the school board as a personal, neighborhood or political fiefdom, important decisions were never made.
The embarrassment of having two half-empty high schools could not be avoided by the late 1980’s.
So the board and superintendent Horowitz (the favored superintendent pick of developer Leonard Knauer and Enid Bloch) decided to close High School West, and merge the two schools in High School East.
That set off a storm of fury in two places:
the borough of Raritan, who felt that “West” was “their high school”–since it had been conceived of at the start of regionalization–
and among the Foothills Civic Association. The Foothills’ group didn’t want the sudden increase in traffic into the High School East site. Bob Vaucher and Dr. Mike Ryan both lived near High School East and are prominent in the group.
The opposition was incredibly strong. In fact, so strong, that in the school board election of 1989, a write in campaign was mounted that removed Enid Bloch and one other board member from the school board!
Now, with two strong partisans on the board–one a very competent retired executive–the battle lines were drawn for the next several years.
The two new factions bitterly fought about every small change that was sought in school administration. For example, the July 1989 school board meeting was a classic. The write-in faction sought a 1/2% reduction in the school budget; and the anti-reform people brought in administrators, principals, a handicapped student, citizens with goofy props meant to be part of “photo opportunities” to fight the change.
I sat next to a elementary school principal at that meeting, who explained that they were trying to “switch” one vote of the nine-member board. Apparently one side had already done its homework.
Throughout 1989 and the early 1990’s, the “pro West – anti Horowitz” and the “pro East – pro Horowitz” forces fought and fought. Finally, the “pro West” group got the upper hand.
It has always been interesting to me, how a community institution that used to be considered a valued element of a neighborhood—a high school—suddenly became a nuisance. But things like elementary or even “middle” (junior high) schools are highly valued. It says a lot about what Americans think about the younger generations as they reach adulthood!
(Next time: The pro-West forces get rid of Richard Horowitz, Mary Elizabeth Connors leaves High School West, and construction of an expanded high school begins!)