SEA BRIGHT – Two neighboring municipalities have partnered with the borough on a feasibility study that will investigate the relocation of Sea Bright high school students to a new school district.
Recent complimentary resolutions passed by the boroughs of Sea Bright, Atlantic Highlands and Highlands showed each Two River-area town make a financial commitment of up to $20,000 toward a study that will explore sending Sea Bright students to schools in the Henry Hudson Regional district, rather than the Shore Regional district.
Sea Bright Mayor Dina Long said the regional school funding formula has long been a thorn in the side of Sea Bright tax-payers and forced the municipality to explore another option.
“Sea Bright has a longstanding issue with the regional funding formula because it requires that we pay a quarter of the Shore Regional High School budget, despite accounting for less than 5 percent of its student body,” Long said in a Jan. 14 interview with The Two River Times.
Sea Bright taxpayers were shouldered with a school tax levy of $3.57 million to send a mere 26 borough students to Shore Regional High School during the 2018-19 school year.
That total equates to $137,308 per student. The tax levy was $3.3 million in 2017-2018 and $2.1 million in 2016-17.
In a June 2018 meeting of the Sea Bright Borough Council, Long explained that while the school tax levy continues to rise, she expects the number of Sea Bright students attending Shore Regional to decrease significantly in the near future.
In March 2017, Sea Bright petitioned the state to force Shore Regional’s Board of Education to agree to a referendum vote for more equal distribution of the school tax burden. Previous petitions made directly to the board of education were denied.
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 the school.
“This is not a knock on Shore Regional. It’s solely to do with the formula. And in a climate when we’re all trying to save money, we can’t just look at municipal taxes only.”
Both Atlantic Highlands and Highlands passed resolutions at their final council meetings of 2018 expressing a willingness to determine if it is in the public interest to undertake educational shared services with Sea Bright in order to promote efficiencies and reduce expenditures.
According to the resolutions, Sea Bright has contracted a professional consultant to produce a feasibility study, and both the other boroughs have agreed to contribute up to $20,000 to the cost of the study.
“This is not anything new. For many years Sea Bright has expressed an interest to join our school district. But recently they came and presented some facts to a committee that included council member (Steven) Boracchia and Mayor (Rhonda) Le Grice, and the governing body decided to take a step forward,” Atlantic Highlands Borough Administrator Adam Hubeny told The Two River Times.
Hubeny said the boroughs were persuaded to investigate this partnership due to Gov. Phil Murphy and state Senate President Stephen M. Sweeney’s push for shared services and the merger of school districts.
“We’ve been very successful with shared services with neighboring municipalities and Monmouth County,” Hubeny said. “This is just another possibility for us, and another way we can potentially save our residents money.”
The decision to invest in this study also follows a recent bill proposed by state Sen. Vin Gopal (D-11) that would require New Jersey municipalities with populations less than 1,000 residents to consolidate with larger neighboring towns.
Though none of the boroughs partaking in this study are immediately impacted by Gopal’s proposal, it’s the sentiment of consolidation and sharing services that Highlands borough administrator Kim Gonzales said was the push they needed to commission this study.
“There’s no way that New Jersey towns, ourselves included, can sustain taking on the costs of everything by themselves. We share services with Atlantic Highlands, we share services with Middletown, why not Sea Bright? How can we not look into helping out our neighboring town, especially when it could be a benefit to all of us,” Gonzales said.
Long said it’s the governing body’s goal to assess all aspects of its residents’ tax bills (school, municipal and county), which is why she stressed that schooling is just one of the possible shared services Sea Bright is exploring with Atlantic Highlands and Highlands.
“We’re exploring lots of possibilities for future shared services, which could include something as small as municipal court services, or as large as trying to change school districts,” Long added.
This article was first published in the Feb.7-14, 2019 print edition of The Two River Times.
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