2009-04-30 / Front Page
S.B. still hit hard by school funding formula
Per pupil cost for Shore Regional H.S. rises to $94K
Sea Bright taxpayers will see a significant decrease in their regional school tax contribution, but the potential savings will be offset by a spike in the per-pupil cost of sending students to Shore Regional High School, according to a borough official.
orough Council President Dina Long
said at the April 21 council meeting that as a result of rising property values in several other sending towns, Sea Bright's share of the regional school funding formula has decreased. However, a drop in the number of students the borough is sending to Shore Regional has resulted in a sharp increase in its per-pupil cost.
"Last year we paid the highest per-pupil amount in Monmouth County at $80,709," Long told the council meeting. "Now we are breaking a record by spending $94, 448 for our  high school students.
"This is not about the school, this is about the regional school formula, which doesn't work for small towns."
The proposed budget for the Shore Regional High School District approved by voters is $14.9 million and Sea Bright's 13.3 percent share is $1.9 million. The per-pupil cost is computed by dividing the $1.9 million by 21 students.
The Shore Regional High School District uses a regional funding formula to compute costs for the sending towns. The formula is not based on the number of pupils sent; instead, taxes are calculated on land value plus student enrollment, which yields a percentage share for what the borough pays as its part of the district budget.
Last year, Sea Bright paid a 16.6 percent share of the regional budget for 27 students, or 2 percent of the attending students.
This year, the borough's percent share dropped to 13.3 percent of the total Shore Regional budget, which is why Sea Bright's share of the Shore Regional High School District tax levy is decreasing.
"It doesn't have anything to do with the school district spending any less money than the year before; in fact, it is showing modest increases, as we all are," said Long at the council meeting.
Sea Bright is experiencing a reduction in percentage share because the borough is sending fewer students to Shore Regional. The number of students from Sea Bright decreased from 27 students to 21.
"That's a big number of students when you're talking about small groups like this, because … out of a total 720 [student body], we're providing 21," said Long.
Oceanport and Monmouth Beach saw an average $13 million increase in their net taxable property value. Because they're being assessed at a higher value than they were before, their shares increased.
"This is solely based on the higher assessment of their property value and the reduction in our students. It has nothing to do with anything Shore Regional did," said Long.
Last year, Monmouth Beach contributed 24 percent of the regional budget and this year will pay 24.8 percent. Oceanport's share was 23.9 percent in 2008 and the borough will pay 25.9 percent of the budget in 2009.
Sea Bright went from a 16.6 percent share to 13.3 percent and was the only sending town showing a decrease.
West Long Branch stayed fairly steady at 35.4 percent of the budget last year, to 35.9 percent this year.
"So it seems like we got a good deal, but we really didn't catch a break when you do the math," Long said.
"Yes, our share of the budget and our taxes went down but the formula is still killing us!" Long exclaimed.
She explained that the Borough Council is awaiting the outcome of a feasibility study that looks at the consolidation of K-12 districts and also the feasibility study that looks at moving Sea Bright into a different district, specifically Rumson.
Long said via email, "We can't predict [the cost of sending to Rumson] unless/until we know whether we'd be paying on formula as a member of a new regional or if we'd be paying per pupil as a sending district."
"Before we determine our next steps with the formula, we need to know what the
outcome is of the studies," said Long.
Prior to the meeting, Councilman Brian Kelly and Long discussed the school funding situation in Loch Arbour, where taxpayers were paying on a per-pupil basis but have been switched to a formula due to a change in state law.
The per-pupil cost for Loch Arbour increased to $66,000 from $12,500 this year because of the change, according to Kelly and Long, who said Sen. Sean Kean (R-11th District) is advocating for Loch Arbour by suggesting a phase-in schedule.
"If Sen. Kean is already looking at their problem, we can be included. We are a perfect example of why this doesn't work," said Long.
"We've been communicating with the senator about our problem here because here is an opportunity for him to really learn the impact of the crazy formula which the state Legislature created for these little towns," said Long.
Councilman C. Read Murphy plans to discuss the issue when he meets with Kean this week, he said at the meeting.
"These property tax and school tax problems are not going to go away until the Legislature rolls up its sleeve and fixes this regional budget formula," cautioned Long.
Mayor Maria D. Fernandes commented: "The formula needs to change. Or just leave the formula alone and allow us to be a sending district."
In an ongoing effort to change the Shore Regional funding formula, Sea Bright officials petitioned the Board of Education to add a nonbinding referendum question to the April ballot.
The disparity between the per-student cost among the sending towns has been an issue for years.
The borough sought approval to add a question on the school funding formula to last November's general election ballot, but the Monmouth County Clerk denied the request and an appeal of that decision was also denied.
The question the borough wanted to add to the general election ballot read, "Should the funding calculation for the Shore Regional High School budget be revised from its current method, which bases each municipality's share on equalized property value, to a method in which each municipality pays a set fee for each of the pupils enrolled in the Shore Regional High School system from each municipality?"
The board rejected Sea Bright's request, and the borough continues to pursue a statewide change with legislators in Trenton and with the executive county superintendent of schools, Long has said.
On Monday, Long and Fernandes attended a "public forum on school consolidation, property taxes and other issues" hosted by Sen. Kean and Assemblymen David Rible and Assemblywoman Mary Pat Angelini.