By SUE MORGAN
With the tuition tab for each of about 27 students that Sea Bright sends to the Shore Regional High School District coming in at $81,000 for the 2008-09 academic year, borough officials say they will keep pushing for the same education for a lot less money.
Its would-be pulpit: the voting booths in all four municipalities that send to Shore Regional High School in West Long Branch. Their vehicle: a referendum question that would ask district voters to modify the formula used by the multi-jurisdictional Shore Regional Board of Education in crafting its budgets in the coming academic years.
That referendum question, asking voters if Shore Regionals school taxes ought to be based on community wealth rather than assessed property values as is done now, would appear on the school board election ballots in Aprilthat is, if Sea Bright officials persuade school board member to post it.
With that goal in mind, the borough councils education committee, led by Council President Dina Long (above), expects to address the Shore Regional board on the situation this fall. In addition, the committee plans to ask officials in the districts other sending towns West Long Branch, Oceanport, and Monmouth Beach to get the same question on their school board election ballots, Long said last week.
Sea Bright officials would like to see community wealth, defined as a given municipalitys actual ability to pay for public education, used by the board in determining how much in total taxation each town would contribute to the overall school budget in forthcoming academic years.
For the 2008-09 academic year, Sea Bright taxpayers are shouldering $2.19 million of Shore Regionals total $13.2 million budget borne by taxpayers in the four towns. Although the borough sends the fewest students to the high school, it pays the most in tuition, due to the inequity of the New Jersey Department of Education formula for funding regional school districts, Long and other Sea Bright officials have said.
That formula, dating back to the early 1960s, directs regional school boards to base a sending towns school taxes upon average assessed property values, Long explained.
The state formula is “fundamentally flawed,” Long said.
Though many properties in Sea Bright are located on the waterfront as a result of the town’s location on a peninsula, inflating assessed values, that doesn’t accurately reflect the spending power of borough residents, Long pointed out.
“We understand that we have some very valuable property, but we also have some low incomes,” Long said.
By comparison, West Long Branch, which sends the most students to Shore Regional, pays about $12,000 in tuition per pupil. Oceanport, which sends the second-greatest number, pays about $14,000 while neighboring Monmouth Beach, third in overall student population, charges its taxpayers about $30,000 per pupil.
If Shore Regional’s board approves Sea Bright’s request for the referendum question, and the other three towns agree to that proposal, voters in all four sending communities would get a say in how the school board actually goes about creating its annual budget.
The education committees original plan, to have the question printed as a non-binding referendum item on this Novembers ballot, did not pass muster with the Monmouth County Board of Elections in Freehold which twice this summer nixed the boroughs requests to place the question on the local general election ballot.
On the advice of Andrea Baser, the county counsel who reviewed Sea Brights initial request, the education committee decided to face Shore Regionals board with the proposal and to aim for referendum April.
“Thats the appropriate time for such a ballot question,” Long said. “We will work with the other three communities to get them on board.”
“We cant put something on the ballot unless we have direct power to put it in effect,” Long said explaining the county election boards denial of their initial request.
In the meantime, Sea Bright taxpayers might have to come up with another $66 yearly for Shore Regional if voters in all towns approve a $13 million bond referendum scheduled for Sept. 30. The school board is asking taxpayers in all four of its sending towns to help foot the bill for replacing its 47-year-old heating and boiler systems and provide for upgrades to provide energy-efficient lighting, Long said.
Polling hours on that day will be from 3p to 9p.