Sea Bright hires attorney to fight funding formula

Kenny Walter
Staff Writer

SEA BRIGHT-The borough is asking the state to reverse the Shore Regional High School Board of Education’s decision to deny a request for referendum that would modify the school funding formula.

During the Jan. 19 Borough Council meeting, the council passed a resolution hiring attorney Vito Gagliardi Jr., Porzio, Bromberg & Newman, to challenge the board’s decision not to allow the referendum to move forward.

“We’re not appealing a referendum, we are appealing the denial of the request to hold a referendum,” Gagliardi said. “Because we are appealing the action of the board of education, the appeal goes to the Commissioner of Education.

“He has the say, and obviously if we don’t like the commissioner’s decision, then you can go to the appellate court.”

Gagliardi said he plans on filing a petition of appeal by February and he expects the commissioner to make a decision within six to 12 months. David Hespe is the New Jersey Commissioner of Education.

Borough officials have been battling for a more equitable share of the regional school tax levy for more than a decade. Sea Bright is one of four sending districts that comprise the Shore Regional High School District, which also includes Oceanport, Monmouth Beach and West Long Branch.

“I think it’s clear to anyone who looks at this scenario that the tax burden visited upon Sea Bright is hideously unfair,” Gagliardi said. “The community with relatively higher property values is forced to subsidize the communities with relatively lower property values.

“The unbelievable burden this places on Sea Bright, who have been struggling to recover from superstore Sandy, is intolerable. The mayor and council are going to do everything they can to address this inequality.”

Sea Bright taxpayers fund approximately $3 million of the district’s $13.9 million tax levy, representing 20.8 percent of the levy. The borough sends 23 students to Shore Regional. Sea Bright students from K-to-8 attend school in Oceanport.

According to the Shore Regional High School District’s 2014-15 budget, Sea Bright’s tax rate increased from 54.1 cents to 68 cents per $100 of assessed valuation. The borough is the only one of the district’s four sending towns to have an increase.

Sea Bright Mayor Dina Long has said the school tax increase — which amounts to an approximately $729,000 increase in the borough’s financial contribution to the district — “was a shock” and “absolutely unacceptable.”

Long said previously that the owner of a home assessed at $500,000 in Monmouth Beach would pay $1,340 in regional school taxes this year; in Oceanport, the homeowner would pay $1,855; in West Long Branch, the homeowner would pay $1,840; while in Sea Bright, the homeowner would pay $2,755.

In 2015, the borough created a School Funding Formula Task Force to explore various options including holding a nonbinding referendum and the possibility of joining the Henry Hudson Regional School District.

Other options include a push on the legislative level to change the state funding formula for regional school districts from one based on the equalized value of real estate in each sending district to a per-pupil formula.