By DON STINE
It looks like most Loch Arbour students will not be attending Ocean Township schools next month following a Superior Court decision this week.
The Superior Court of New Jersey, Monmouth County, dismissed an Ocean Township lawsuit against Loch Arbour over leaving the township’s school district and creating its own school board.
By withdrawing from the Ocean Township school district property owners in Loch Arbour will see substantial tax savings.
“Loch Arbour is out of Ocean Township,” Mayor Paul Fernicola said this week after receiving the court’s decision. “Hopefully, the Ocean Township Board of Education and Council now realize it’s time to stop spending substantial public monies on costly litigation and will accept the fact that Loch Arbour has left the Ocean schools.”
Fernicola said the Ocean Township school board still has a case pending in the Appellate Court challenging the village’s new educational formula but he said that “there is certainly a strong indication” that the other outstanding lawsuit will also be dismissed.
“The lawsuit could cause a problem but indications are that Ocean Township will not succeed on the merits of their appeal. This is just a desperate, last-ditch attempt to overturn Loch Arbour’s decision,” he said.
Ocean Township Superintendent of Schools James Stefankiewicz said that school officials will not comment on the litigation since it is still ongoing but that he is hopeful the township will prevail.
He did say, however, that the school board has decided that any Loch Arbour student who wants to continue going to school in Ocean Township for the 2017-2018 school year can do so for free and that transportation will continue to be provided.
“Litigation is still pending and to uproot these students from a school system that they have known for years is unfair and just wrong, especially for seniors. It seems rather cruel to make them go another school in order to graduate high school. I think we all agree this unfair to children,” he said.
Stefankiewicz said that the school board felt it is important to extend this arrangement since Loch Arbour families have been “throw a curve ball” about their children’s education.
“Now they don’t have to worry where they are going to school next year,” he said.
A state Appellate Court ruled that an April 4 election allowing Loch Arbour residents to vote on whether they want to leave the Ocean Township school district could an take place as scheduled, rejecting an Ocean Township motion to obtain an injunction to prevent the ballot from moving forward. The appeal, which was denied, challenged state Department of Education Commissioner Kimberley Harrington’s Feb. 24 decision to allow the referendum.
In a 93-to-4 vote, Loch Arbour voters on April 4 approved the ballot question allowing students to leave Ocean Township schools and attend schools in the West Long Branch School district for grades K-8 and Shore Regional School district for high school.
Loch Arbour then formed a separate, non-operating school district (one without its own school) and will base the village’s school tax rate on the number of students being sent to the schools rather than solely on property values, as was the case.
Fernicola said he is not sure how many students will be attending school this year since some have graduated or moved from the village.
“I think residents are very happy and saw their first partial school tax relief in about 10 years. And I think they are very appreciative of the work that went into this and are very happy the lawsuit has been dismissed,” he said.