Despite Effort, Sea Bright To See Regional School Tax Increase

June 19, 2018
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The entrance to Shore Regional High School.

By Chris Rotolo |

SEA BRIGHT – School taxes in the borough will go up again next year, said Mayor Dina Long.

At the June 4 borough council meeting, Long said Shore Regional’s budget for the 2018-19 school session will increase. Sea Bright’s total school levy will rise to $3.57 million from $3.3 million.

Twenty-six borough students attend the West Long Branch-based regional high school.

“The school’s budget has increased and Sea Bright’s portion of the budget has gone from 21 percent to 23 percent,” Long said during the public comment section of the meeting. “So we know that we’ll be seeing some increases in our school tax in the upcoming budget.”

In 2016-17, the borough paid approximately $2.1 million in school tax for 18 of its students to attend Shore Regional, or $116,666.67 per student.

Last year borough residents saw the cost per-student rise to $128,218.04.

Long noted that with 10 Sea Bright seniors set to graduate from the school this year – referring to it is as “a big graduating class” for the municipality – the number of borough students due to attend Shore Regional in the following years is trending downward, while costs continue to climb.

In March 2017, the borough petitioned the state commissioner of education, David Hespe, to force Shore Regional’s Board of Education to agree to a referendum vote on the matter, which would call for reform of the current regional school funding formula and a more equal distribution of the school tax burden.

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Holding a referendum vote would place the decision in the hands of taxpayers from Oceanport, Monmouth Beach, West Long Branch and Sea Bright. Though the borough has petitioned the school board in the past, those petitions were denied.

Borough councilman Charlie H. Rooney III called the Shore Regional Board of Education’s refusal to grant a referendum vote “frustrating.”

“The Board’s arrogance is blinding them,” Rooney added. “It almost seems like they think they’re above us and that’s keeping them from seeing the solution that’s right in front of their faces.”

“This is not the Board’s decision. This is a taxpayer’s decision. And the thing is, regardless of how that vote might go, even if the other towns choose to help the citizens of Sea Bright, the budget remains the same. School taxes are still going to be paid,” said Rooney.

Sea Bright currently has litigation pending regarding the borough’s request for a referendum. and, though the petition is still working its way through the legal channels, “We do feel confident in our legal challenge.”

The current funding formula was instituted in 1975 and requires that regional district tax levies be allocated based on property values, rather than population or the number of borough students attending an institute.

Long said she and the borough council are currently working with the office of state Sen. Declan O’Scanlon (R-13) on new methods to rework the funding formula, including a cap system that would eliminate the possibility of a nearly 55 percent school tax increase, like the one Sea Bright saw from 2016-17 to 2017-18.

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“One of the tweaks we’re working on is to cap the amount your allowed to swing in a year,” Long said. “That would make sure we don’t have these huge increases. The idea would be to cap it at a reasonable range so there is room to increase but we won’t get sandbagged like we have in past years,” said Long. “But this is something for down the road.”

In January the council stated that only 47 percent of Sea Bright property taxes is used for local purposes, with approximately 25 percent going to Shore Regional and another 10 percent going to Oceanport K-8 schools.

According to the 2018-19 Shore Regional budget, Sea Bright is the only one of the four boroughs whose students attend the school whose total tax levy has increased over the previous year.

While Sea Bright’s total school levy has risen from $3.3 million to $3.57 million, Oceanport’s has decreased from $3.57 million to $3.52 million. Monmouth Beach’s has fallen from $3.91 million to $3.81 million. And West Long Branch has dropped from $4.82 million to $4.62 million.

This article was first published in the June 14-June 21, 2018 print edition of The Two River Times.

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