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Sea Bright Files Suit Against Shore Regional To Change Funding Formula

SEA BRIGHT: Sea Bright officials have filed suit against Shore Regional High School in an attempt to change the state's school funding formula and the amount of taxes it pays to the school district.

"Sea Bright requests that the Commissioner of Education authorize a public referendum to consider modification of the tax allocation method for Shore Regional to one based 100% on pupil enrollment, as was the tax allocation method to which the voters agreed when they established Shore Regional (in the early 1960s)," the lawsuit states.

The borough is being represented by the law firm of Porzio, Bromberg & Newman, based in Morristown, which filed the suit in early 2016.

The borough has seen a reduction in its tax bill but officials still feel residents are paying too much because of the number of residents in town compared to the other sending districts West Long Branch, Oceanport and Monmouth Beach. Sea Bright's elementary and middle school-aged students attend the Oceanport School District. There are currently 18 Sea Bright children who attend Shore Regional.

In 1975 the New Jersey State Legislature revised the school funding laws to require the conversion of all regional district tax levies to be apportioned based upon the equalized value of real estate.

"This unexpected change has resulted, over the years, in an incredibly disproportionate tax burden in the regional district," the lawsuit states.

In the late 1980's, the borough tried to change the formula but was unsuccessful.

However, the Legislature again changed the law in 1993 to once again permit regional districts to allocate their tax levies on a per pupil basis. The lawsuit states that this gives the school board the ability to change the funding formula.

"The tax allocation method for Shore Regional has not been revised by the voters in Shore Regional at any point since its creation in the early 1960s," the lawsuit states. "Moreover, the voters in Shore Regional have not been asked to approve or review its tax allocation method since the regional district was created more than half a century ago."

Mayor Dina Long and the Sea Bright Council requested to have the referendum, but Shore Regional Superintendent wrote in a letter back to Long and the council that it was the board of education's (BOE'S) consensus "not to explore the possibility of a referendum to reduce the apportionment of Sea Bright to the Shore Regional High School District."

Farrell said that the BOE has tried to keep the taxes as low as possible for the borough the last few years.

"We have proposed, developed, and adopted a budget that has had no increase in each of the last three years," Farrell said in his letter. "This current school year budget has seen Sea Bright's apportionment decrease from 21 percent to 17 percent for a savings of $789 per year for the average assessed home. That represents a 25 percent DECREASE in Sea Bright taxes from the previous year."

According to meeting minutes, Shore Regional BOE member and Sea Bright resident Susana Markson made a motion during the Nov. 19, 2015 BOE meeting to have a vote on conducting a referendum to change the State funding formula. The motion failed as there was no second.

The lawsuit argues that Shore Regional's "refusal to authorize the requested referendum is arbitrary, capricious and unreasonable."

Long said at the Feb. 21 Sea Bright Council meeting that there is a hearing on the matter scheduled before an administrative law judge in May.

"However, before that time we are hoping to have productive conversations with the Shore Regional School Board towards coming up with what will be a fair and reasonable formula, not just for Sea Bright, but for all the towns that are the small town in the disproportionate share in regional school district," Long said.

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