By JOHN T. WARD
The Red Bank Regional High board of ed kicked off an information campaign Wednesday night with a dire message: if a proposed $17.3 million capital plan fails at the ballot box in December, taxpayers in three towns may be in for a tax shock. The board released revised town-by-town projected tax impacts if the referendum passes. Below, board member Frank Neary during his presentation Wednesday. (Photo by John T. Ward. Click to enlarge.)
The Little Silver school, which serves students from Little Silver, Red Bank and Shrewsbury, needs a new roof and 10 new classrooms to accommodate soaring enrollment, officials told about 75 attendees of a special board meeting, held in the school’s media center.
The classrooms are also needed to preserve a coveted cash stream: tuition paid by non-district enrollees of RBR’s vaunted four-year academies, now set at $14,900 per year.
Superintendent Lou Moore said approval of both parts of a two-part referendum would also provide funding for a turf field, stadium restrooms and a concession stand.
The fate of the referendum, scheduled for December 11, is to be decided by a simple overall majority of votes, said Frank Neary, a Shrewsbury representative on the board and chair of the finance committee.
Moore noted that by law, administrators and board members cannot advocate for a vote one way or another on the referendum. “Our obligation is to inform the community with objective information,” he told redbankgreen on Thursday. And the adverse consequences of a ‘no’ vote, he said, are “a fact. We’re going to have to cut programs, there’s no two ways about it.”
For starters, the school will have to find new ways to accommodate a student population that has grown rapidly in recent years and is expected to continue climbing, Neary said.
Last year, with 1,217 students, RBR was 174 students above the level that’s considered optimal, said Neary. Within a few years, it’s expected to exceed the maximum building capacity of 1,462 students, as determined by the New Jersey Department of Education, he said.
The growth of in-district population will result in dwindling classroom space for out-of-district enrollees in the school’s well-regarded academies in visual arts, information technology, finance, engineering and early childhood education, Neary said.
Together, those students accounted for $4 million in revenue four years ago, a sum that covered not only the costs of running the academies, but all athletic and extracurricular activities for all students, said Neary.
But as space has gotten squeezed, out-of-district enrollment has fallen, and tuition income has dropped to $2.8 million, a $1.2 million difference that’s already being made up by local taxpayers, officials said.
All that points to both pain for district taxpayers and “drastic cuts” to programs and personnel if the referendum fails, said Neary.
“I submit to you that 2018 is going to be a critical year,” comparable to the pivot years of 1969, when the regionalization process began and 1983, when the earliest of the academies came into being, said Moore.
State aid will soften the potential blow for taxpayers if the referendum passes, officials said. They released new projected costs to property owners, which put the additional tax burden at $138 per year for the owner of a Little Silver home at the borough-average assessment of $663,730; $135 per year in Shrewsbury for a home assessed at $552,125; and $80 in Red Bank, where the average assessment is $366,231.
Those rates would decline sharply after early 2023, when the last payment on existing debt is made, Neary said.
As for the roof, if the referendum is rejected, it will have to be repaired in patches, without the benefit of state aid that’s available under the proposal, district business administrator Christina Galvao told the audience.
Among the questions from the audience: what’s driving the attendance increase? While enrollment from Shrewsbury and Little Silver has been relatively steady, Neary said, there’s been “a steep increase” from Red Bank.
Another attendee asked how RBR knows if a non-tuition student resides in-district. Neary outlined measures to verify residency, and said the district has sued people it believed committed fraud to get their children into the school.
“If you are aware of anyone coming here who does not live here, we want to know about that,” he said.
The presentation was persuasive for at least one audience member. “I walked in here opposed,” said Gerry Poling, a former Shrewsbury councilman. “But now I’m going to vote for it.”
Afterward, Poling told redbankgreen he’d viewed the projected cost of the price of the project as “outrageous,” but didn’t realize it covered more than just classroom space.
“I’m for it now, not that I like to spend money,” he said. “But I know the school helps keep my property value up.”
As previously reported by redbankgreen, the referendum is split into two parts:
• Question 1 is on the new roof, with an estimated cost to taxpayers, after anticipated state aid, of $4 million; renovation of existing facilities ($4.6 million); and addition of 10 classrooms ($7.1 million); for a total $15.7 million.
• Question 2 covers a turf field ($1.6 million); restrooms and concession stands ($730,000) for a total $2.3 million.
The second question can only pass if the first one does. The request for the stadium improvements was driven by the community demand, Neary said in response to a resident’s question.
District officials have scheduled a series of additional presentations, with the next one scheduled for Tuesday, October 9, 7 p.m., at the Shrewsbury Borough School. Additional dates and times are available in the calendar at the bottom of the referendum web page.
Meantime, the district has also created a twitter feed, #RBRHSupdates.