School Funding Changes Delay Tax Bills

Aug 09, 2017

If anything good came from Gov. Chris Christie’s much maligned decision to sit on the beach at Island Beach State Park while it was closed to everyone else earlier this summer, it’s that the delayed state budget included an increase in school funding for the Southern Regional School District.

“We got a little more money,” District Business Administrator Steve Terhune said, noting it will be used to offset the tax levy in 2018. “It would have cost more to reprint everything than what we received.”

It would also have required scheduling, advertising and conducting a special board meeting in order to earmark the bump in school funding for its current budget, he said. In doing that, the mailing of local tax bills would have been further delayed, Terhune noted.

“That would have caused a big cash flow problem for some towns,” he said, noting every school district, whether it received additional monies, saw a decrease in funding or stayed even, had to recertify its tax rate with the county.

Southern Regional was the first district to contact the county on July 17, but the instructions from the state weren’t clear cut for everyone. The Stafford Township Elementary School District’s funding stayed the same, and it still had to recertify with the county.

“I’ll give the state the benefit of the doubt,” Terhune said of the decision coming in the middle of summer and employees being on vacation. Still, he said, it felt like “all the hands weren’t talking” to each other.

Terhune said the change in school funding has nothing to do with some Long Beach Island taxpayers’ push to have funding changed at the regional level. That topic, he said, rears its head every few years.

“It’s statewide,” he said. “Some districts went up, some went down and some stayed the same. Toms River and Brick lost money.”

Southern Regional consists of seven constituent members: Stafford Township and the six Island communities of Barnegat Light, Beach Haven, Harvey Cedars, Long Beach Township, Ship Bottom and Surf City. The cost to each municipality to educate its students is based on property value, not actual per-pupil cost. Waretown, which also sends its students to Southern Regional as a sending district, pays an annual tuition per student.

Stafford sends 2,193 students to Southern Regional, according to figures presented at the meeting. It pays about $9 million annually yet accounts for nearly 90 percent of the enrollment. The cost per student is $4,122.

On the Island, Long Beach Township sends the most students to Southern Regional with 93.5, and an annual payment of nearly $20.5 million for less than 4 percent of the enrollment. The cost per student is $218,911, and is the second highest on the Island. Barnegat Light foots the next largest bill with an annual per-pupil payment of $165,335 for 12 students, for a total of a little more than $2 million annually and less than .5 percent of the enrollment, according to the figures. Surf City is fourth on the list with 37 students at $112,311 for a total of $4.1 million annually and 1.51 percent of the enrollment at the regional district.

Beach Haven and Ship Bottom are on the “low” end of the pay scale. Beach Haven, with 47.5 students attending the regional school district, pays nearly $95,100 per pupil for a total of $4.5 million annually and 1.94 percent of the enrollment. In Ship Bottom, 53 students at a per-pupil rate of $51,304, for a total of $2.7 million, attend the regional school district. Those students account for 2.17 percent of the enrollment.

That leaves Harvey Cedars, a community less than 1.2 square miles nestled between Long Beach Township and Barnegat Light on the north end of the Island, with population of 360, and a summer population of 9,900, at the top of the discrepancy list. With 11.5 students enrolled in the regional school district, the borough’s annual payment is $2.9 million for less than .5 percent of the entire student body. The per pupil cost hovers around $255,000. Still, the residents were mostly quiet in 2006 when Long Beach Township Commissioner Ralph H. Bayard and former Beach Haven Mayor Deborah Whitcraft, who also served as a borough representative to Southern Regional, spearheaded a campaign to change school funding.

Gina G. Scala

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