“Regionalization does not work for small communities. Period.”
That’s how an op-ed piece by Sea Bright Mayor Maria Fernandes, writing in today’s Asbury Park Press, begins.
Her target: state-mandated formulas for apportioning costs among towns joined in regional school districts. And the immediate cause of her outrage is the latest calculation from the Shore Regional High School district, which bills Sea Bright $81,000 per high school student, even though the overall average cost of educating a student at the school is just hair over $18,000, she writes.
At 27 students, that’ll cost tiny Sea Bright close to $2.2 million this year.
From the article:
Any level-headed individual would say that is crazy, and everyone in Sea Bright agrees.
Shore Regional is doing nothing wrong. This amount is based on a complicated formula that takes into consideration the number of students in the grammar school, as well as Shore Regional, and the equalized value of the municipality, among other factors. This formula was enacted by the Legislature and was supposed to guarantee every child a “thorough and efficient” education.
We do not disagree with that intention. But as far as Sea Bright taxpayers are concerned, and other small communities in similar situations, it has also guaranteed an unbelievably unfair financial hardship. This must be resolved by the same body that voted for this unfair formula in the first place, the Legislature.
Figures in the proposed Shore Regional budget show Sea Bright has the least amount of students (27) and the lowest equalized property value ($859,888,235). But it has the highest increase (6.6 cents per $100 of assessed value) and the highest per-pupil cost ($80,976).
The cost to educate a student at Shore Regional is $14,726, based on another formula devised by the Department of Education, which is defined as current expenses exclusive of tuition expenditures, transportation, residential costs and judgments against the school board. So why are we expected to pay $80,976 per pupil?
The per-pupil cost for Monmouth Beach is $30,976. Yet Oceanport ($12,990) and West Long Branch ($12,969) are lower than the district’s per-pupil cost of $14,726, based on a mandated formula by the Department of Education that makes no sense at all. The total tax levy for the four communities is $13,151,046, and the total number of students is 729. So the true cost to educate a student at Shore Regional is $18,027.
There are a number of municipalities pursuing legal action against the state, which adds unnecessary legal costs to all taxpayers. Everyone shares the costs to defend the state, regardless of where we live.
The solution is simple: eliminate complicated formulas devised in the past and fairly charge each municipality on a true per-pupil cost. All we are asking for is fairness and common sense.
This is not a problem that only affects Sea Bright. It is a statewide problem that affects many communities and taxpayers. It is my responsibility as mayor to bring this to everyone’s attention. It is the Legislature’s obligation to undo such an outrageous injustice now.