Archaic Formula

Jun 28, 2017

To the Editor:

This letter is in response to Mr. Tallon’s letter regarding the Southern Regional School District school tax issue (“School Funding Tricks,” 6/21). Mr. Tallon’s letter contains many of the misconceptions and faulty assumptions that cloud a clear analysis of the facts regarding the situation we are now in – where Island homeowners fund 80 percent of the district, despite only sending 10 percent of the students to Southern Regional.

Mr. Tallon’s reference to the district being a “regional,” not a “town,” district is correct but irrelevant. The issue is how the state’s funding formula is applied within the district. When the SRSD was organized in the 1950s, the student populations were about even between LBI and Stafford Township. Now, the populations are heavily skewed with the vast majority of the students coming from Stafford Township. Yet because we are using an archaic formula to determine the tax burden, LBI pays for almost all of the students to attend SRSD. 

It is simply inequitable in the present day to continue this lopsided application simply because it has always been done that way. I would ask every reader to consider if when the SRSD was first organized, any town government officials (in their right minds) would agree to a situation where their towns would contribute 80 percent of the total school budget while sending only 10 percent of the students to the schools. Would they agree to pay on average $145,000 per student, while one of the towns pays about $4,000 per student? Additionally, would anyone agree to only having one-third of the seats on the governing board of education, the very body that decides the annual budget? The answer is a no-brainer. The answer is no.

And while we are on the topic of fairness, you read those numbers right: Stafford Township taxpayers pay around $4,000 per student they send to SRSD, while Island residents pay $145,000 per student from LBI. And that $145,000 is an average of all the Island towns. Harvey Cedars residents, for example, pay about $254,000 per student sent to SRSD. We don’t need to go “street by street” – the amount paid by Harvey Cedars is eye-popping all by itself.

And if that’s not enough, Stafford Township also enjoys a windfall when compared to the amount paid on average throughout the state. In New Jersey, the average per pupil cost is $20,400. As mentioned before, Stafford pays about $4,000, far less than the New Jersey average. In fact, it’s less than one-fifth of the state average! Why let this free (or, at least, a reduced fare) ride continue?

Mr. Tallon argues that critics of the present formula are “tricksters.” Who exactly is the trickster? Consider the following facts: Ship Bottom and Harvey Cedars have almost identical equalized property valuations, i.e., around $1.25 and $1.27 billion for Harvey Cedars and Ship Bottom respectively. This school year Ship Bottom will send 53 and Harvey Cedars 11.5 students to the SRSD. (Don’t ask about the half – just another crazy school formula). Because of how the state calculates the budget for each town in the district, Ship Bottom will pay around $200,000 less than Harvey Cedars, despite having a higher equalized property valuation and sending 4.6 times as many students to the district this year. That, sir, is a trick! 

But the real trick is using a “smoke and mirrors” argument to divert attention from the main issue: Is it fair for a community that sends 10 percent of the students to pay 80 percent of the taxes.  It’s not “this LBI town versus that LBI town” – the situation is equally unfair to every LBI taxpayer.

Finally, let’s easily dismiss the fallacy that if the school tax situation is changed, students will have to do with less money or somehow enjoy less of an education. This is a classic red herring argument. The budget is set by the SRSD. That budget then goes through the statutory “sausage” formula and each town pays the amount that the formula spits out. If school tax fairness becomes a reality, there is nothing that will prevent SRSD from passing the same budget. It will be the same. The only difference will be how that “formula” is applied: Stafford taxpayers will pay more than they now do, and Island taxpayers will pay less.

The budget SRSD sets is completely separate from the funding formula, so let’s end the argument that the district will somehow have to keep the buildings together with chewing gum and straws. Let us be clear, nobody on the Island is in favor of disrupting the education of any student. The underlying principle is fairness, period.

We leave it to the readers to determine:  Is the current situation a “ridiculous structure”? Perhaps this issue keeps on coming up every few years because it is so utterly unfair. The only thing stopping the change is a bizarre law, and a school board that has, as the majority of its members, those very folks who are enjoying the windfall. It’s time to make the change.

Our advice: Be right minded, take the high road and join the fight to make our school tax equitable for LBI and Stafford Township. Tell your elected representatives that the time has come for a change in the tax burden, because that is all that is on the table: fairness. I’m sure even Mr. Tallon, a Ship Bottom councilman, will agree that elected representatives should follow the desires of their constituents, and set aside their personal views to the contrary.  

Bob Danna, trustee

Harvey Cedars Taxpayers Association

Mike Songer, president

Harvey Cedars Taxpayers Association


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