Shrewsbury Mayor Takes Aim at School Funding

January 14, 2019
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Erik Anderson is a lifelong resident of Shrewsbury and was sworn into a full four-year term as mayor at the borough’s annual reorganization meeting. Photo by Chris Rotolo

By Chris Rotolo |

SHREWSBURY – While guiding the district’s legislative leaders through the same elementary school he attended decades ago, Erik Anderson made sure to point out all the outdated infrastructure from his youth that remained.

Following a Jan. 2 reorganization meeting in which the 42-year-old Anderson was sworn in to a four-year mayoral term, the lifelong borough resident reflected on his recent tour of the Shrewsbury Borough facility with Sen. Vin Gopal (D-11), Assemblywoman Joanne Downey (D-11) and Assemblyman Eric Houghtaling (D-11).

“The classrooms were the same, the bathrooms were the same and the encapsulating asbestos and the five heating units are all the same. And here’s the roof that leaks and we’re asked to do a referendum to pay for a new one,” Anderson said in an interview with The Two River Times. “There are other communities that are tearing entire schools down, and they’re younger than our building.”

Anderson’s comments expanded on a point he made during his first mayoral remarks about a state school funding formula he said “is broken” and vowed to fight on behalf of Shrewsbury families for a fairer shake.

“When it comes to school funding we get $537 per student when other districts get $18,000 per student. At the end of the day, what’s fair is fair. Our tax dollars are going out and they’re not coming back in,” said Anderson. “I want what’s best and what’s fair for my community and it doesn’t matter to me if it’s Democrats or Republicans who help us get there.”

During his opening address, Anderson, a Republican, stressed that Shrewsbury residents should not have to endure tax hikes to provide students with proper, modern teaching facilities and, in a similar vein, turned his sights on the borough’s districted high school, Red Bank Regional.

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“We need to address Shrewsbury being unfairly taxed to fund the operation of the high school. For too long Shrewsbury residents have been paying a higher tax rate than the other two sending districts,” Anderson said, referencing the nearby boroughs of Little Silver and Red Bank. 

According to Red Bank Regional’s previous three school budgets, Shrewsbury is the only sending district to see year-after-year increases in both its estimated general fund school tax rate and school tax levy.

From the 2016-17 school year to 2018-19, Shrewsbury’s estimated tax rate jumped from .4609 to .4885, while the levy increased from $5.15 million to $5.62 million.

In Little Silver the tax rate has steadily dropped from .4232 in 2016-17 to .4159 this year. Though the tax burden on borough residents climbed from $6.92 million to $7.05 million in 2017-18, this year the levy dropped to $6.93 million.

Red Bank residents saw their rate drop from .4291 to .4232 in 2017-18. But that number rose to .4422 this year. The borough’s levy has also climbed from $8.93 million two years ago to $9.38 million in 2018-19.

Though Shrewsbury’s estimated tax levy is the least of the three municipalities, so too is its population, with approximately 4,000 residents, compared to an estimated 6,000 in Little Silver and upward of 12,000 in Red Bank, according to projections made by the United States Census Bureau.

In July, the state government almost shut down due to stalled school budget talks, a debate that led to 205 New Jersey school districts receiving less school aid than initially promised in Gov. Phil Murphy’s initial 2018-19 budget address, including Two River-area districts like the Borough of Highlands, Middletown Township, the Borough of Oceanport and Henry Hudson Regional.

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Some school district aid totals remained unchanged, such as Red Bank Regional’s $1.17 million in funding and Shrewsbury’s $286,834.

In total, 139 districts benefitted from this redistribution of school funding, including the Borough of Red Bank, which jumped from $3.75 million to $5.54 million (a 47.72 percent increase), and the Borough of Little Silver, which increased from $398,966 to $492,709 (a 23.5 percent increase).

“It’s not fair to our community and these are things we’re going to need to take action on,” Anderson said. Anderson was elected as the borough’s mayor after defeating Democratic challenger David Dragonetti in the November election. He takes the reins from former mayor Don Burden, who was voted into two consecutive mayoral terms but stepped away in 2018 after 40 years of public service to the borough.

This article was first published in the Jan. 10-Jan. 16, 2019 print edition of The Two River Times.

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