Merchantville school officials have long been dissatisfied with Pennsauken High, saying it hasn't been meeting the Annual Yearly Progress (AYP) academic goals set by the federal No Child Left Behind act.
"Haddon Heights meets AYP," said Merchantville School Board President Ed Bohn. "But Pennsauken could make a case to fight" the move.
Efforts by Merchantville in 1992 to send its high school students to Haddonfield were rejected by the state education commissioner.
Pennsauken school officials did not return phone calls Friday and have not publicly commented on the borough's plan.
"Ideally," Bohn said, the Haddon Heights proposal "will go through speedily. Our lawyers tell us that it might take until the fall of 2014 or 2015."
A feasibility study commissioned by the Merchantville School District indicated that plans to send about 55 borough students to Haddon Heights would have a minimal financial impact on the affected communities.
"It's a long road," Bohn said, "but I'm hoping it will happen."
The borough's lawyer will file a petition with the state proposing the move, said Timothy Bell, Merchantville's interim chief school administrator. The plan, which Haddon Heights' school board also approved this week, will be taken up by the state's education commissioner and administrative law judge.
Haddon Heights High School, which is about seven miles from Merchantville, already receives students from Lawnside and Barrington. But it could be bypassed in favor of a Cherry Hill high school if Merchantville merges with the township, borough officials said.
The effort to bring the two municipalities together began in earnest in 2010 with hundreds of Merchantville residents signing petitions asking for a study and with both municipalities passing resolutions calling for an exploration of the pros and cons.
One of the driving forces behind the proposed merger was the effort to remove Merchantville's students from Pennsauken High. The possibility of sending students to Haddon Heights "may affect some who support the merger," Merchantville Mayor Frank North said.
"The move was supposedly driven by the school issue, so some may drop out," he said. "Others will still want the merger."
Merging municipalities in a state where there are 566 is rare. New Jersey has had only two mergers in six decades.
Borough residents formed a nonprofit group - Merchantville Connecting for the Future - to explore the merger possibilities.
A commission with representatives from Merchantville and Cherry Hill was established and is seeking to hire a consultant to study the proposal. It will be shared with voters, who must approve the merger.
"The merger is something in process," said Gregory Lavardera, a borough architect who was a member of the nonprofit citizens group. "But the path of the merger isn't certain."
That's why the possibility of sending students to Haddon Heights "is good news. I think it's fantastic that the school board made this move," Lavardera said. "How it will play out, nobody knows.
"If the merger doesn't succeed, it's good to have this option in the long run."
But it doesn't address the fiscal issues that would be taken into account by a merger. "It won't blunt the effort," Lavardera said. "For some, the school was the issue, and they may feel it's solved.
"We also talked about taxes and budgets; for some, the fiscal issues were more compelling. Our services are diminishing, and taxes are going up."
Contact staff writer Edward Colimore at 856-779-3833 or email@example.com.