Sea Bright Hires Counsel In Its Fight To Cut School Costs

April 6, 2012
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SEA BRIGHT — The Borough Council hired some additional help in its ongoing effort to curb the costs of sending public school students out of district.

The council, at Tuesday’s meeting, voted 5-1 to appoint a local lawyer to serve as the special counsel to pursue remedies for what the borough pays to send students to Oceanport and West Long Branch.

The council chose Marianne McKenzie, a lawyer with an office at 612 Ocean Ave.

The council authorized up to $5,000, which would include expenses, for her legal services, according to the resolution.

The borough currently pays approximately $85,000 per student per year to send them to Shore Regional High School, West Long Branch, according to Borough Councilman William Keeler.

Sea Bright is one of the three districts, along with Oceanport and West Long Branch, who send students there.

Primary school students go to the Oceanport district.

Local officials for years have complained about the funding formula, which they say is inequitable and too costly for the small community.

McKenzie said she has lived in the borough since 1986 and was a member of the local board of education for 16 years. However, 2009 legislation had abolished the board in solely-sending districts, McKenzie said.

The district sends about 70 younger students out of district and approximately 20 to the high school, she said.

“We’ve become more of a full-time community and a built-out community,” with the building of townhouse and condominium developments, she said, explaining that means more students and higher costs to borough taxpayers.

The current funding system could be changed, but only with the approval of voters in all three of the high school’s sending districts. Even if it could get on the ballot, McKenzie acknowledged, it has little chance of passing, since the other two towns would have to pick up more of the costs.

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“It’s important to show how financially hurt we’ve been for many years,” she said.

The Republicans appeared supportive of their choice, all five voting for McKenzie. “She has the legal background. She’s astute. Her contacts are legend,” said GOP Councilman C. Read Murphy.

However, Councilman Marc Leckstein, the council’s lone Democrat cast the one dissenting vote. Leckstein said his opposition was based upon his belief that professional service contracts should be put out to public bid.

Those contracts, for attorneys, engineers and other specialized services, and for emergency expenditures, are exempt from the public bidding process.

Mayor Dina Long, a Democrat, also seemed resistant to the hiring, saying afterwards it is the council’s obligation to address these issues. Long (who doesn’t get a vote in most circumstances) asked for a special panel be enacted to work with McKenzie and asked to serve on it, as is her right as mayor.

The council declined to support her motion and defeated it.



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