Interlaken residents remained split regarding a recent school tax increase and the issue was once again the topic at the Board of Education meeting, which about 150 people attended Sept. 23.
Residents packed the Allenhurst Fire House to learn more, or to complain or support, a recent move by the Board of Education to offer the first-ever education option for borough students and their parents.
Traditionally, the borough has been a sending district to Asbury Park. But for more than a decade no residents attended school there due its poor academic standing. A recent decision by education officials has allowed parents to send their children to Shore Regional High School in West Long Branch and that borough’s elementary schools.
A recent school tax increase to send 25 students to West Long Branch Schools or to Shore Regional High School resulted in a substantial increase in Interlaken taxes.
Tuition for each student is $10,000.
School Board Attorney Anthony Sciarrillo said taxes on a $540,000 Interlaken house went from $6,111 to $7,924, or up $1,800. He said that of that amount, $911 is school taxes and $894 is county, municipal and library taxes.
He said that borough children are constitutionally entitled to a thorough and efficient public education and that Interlaken’s school tax rate is still among the lowest in the state.
He added that special education students account for 40 percent of the current school budget and is something over which the board has no control.
Some residents, many older and on fixed incomes, said that the school tax rate in the borough has always been low and that many residents paid, over many years, to educate their children at private schools.
Others said that they knew nothing about the new educational arrangement and how it would affect their wallets.
Board officials said that a letter to all residents about the proposed school change was mailed on August 1. Some residents said they never got the letter while others said they did.
Others said that minutes of past board meetings are not posted on the borough’s web site – a move that borough officials said it being corrected after the web site received a blow during Superstorm Sandy.
Other residents said they support the new educational formula and said it is better than having school taxes based on assessed valuation, which would cause a serious increase in property taxes.
Resident Judy Held suggested residents work together.
“We, as a community, should want to work together to bring down both county and municipal taxes,” she said.
Resident Gary Layton said he has attended many school board meetings and that there is always a lack of public interest.
“If taxes didn’t go up no one would give two hoots about the Board of Education. Many times no one cares until the tax bill comes and if you think education is free, then you are not very well informed,” he said.
Sciarrillo said that the school board was informed several years ago by state and county education officials that they should look at their school formula since the state was attempting to do away with all non-operating school districts, or districts without their own school, like Interlaken, Loch Arbour and Allenhurst.
In turn, the board began a search for what it believed was the best deal to educate the borough’s children and, after contacting surroundings school districts, it was decided to enter into the agreement with West Long Branch and Shore Regional.
Interlaken parents recently had the choice to send their children to West Long Branch elementary schools from kindergarten through eighth grade and to Shore Regional High School for the ninth through 12th grades, with the borough paying about $10,000 tuition per student.
This per-pupil cost, which is expected to extend for 10-years, is now being reflected in the borough’s school tax rate. Interlaken also has a sending/receiving relationship with Asbury park where tuition costs would be close to $30,000 a year.
Board members said West Long Branch may take over educating special education students at a lower cost beginning this September.