Loch Arbour residents moved one step closer to separating their village from the Ocean Township school district after the state’s top education official denied a request to halt a special April 4 ballot.
State Department of Education Commissioner Kimberley Harrington on Feb. 24 rejected Ocean Township’s request for an injunction to prevent Loch Arbour residents from voting on whether to withdraw from the Ocean Township school district, delivering the latest rebuke to the Board of Education’s effort to prevent Loch Arbour from leaving.
Harrington’s rejection of the school board’s attempt to stay the special ballot means that Ocean Township now has only an appeal to the state Appellate Court left to seek an injunction to prevent the special ballot to be presented to Loch Arbour voters.
“Loch Arbour residents have embraced the upcoming election scheduled for April 4th as a vindication of their right to decide for themselves where their children will be educated,” village Mayor Paul Fernicola said.
“The right to vote is one of our most fundamental processes and Ocean Township has been acting very undemocratic,” he said.
Ocean Township Board of Education President James Dietrich said on Thursday that the school board will proceed to the Appellate Court to still seek the injunction.
“We are disappointed but not surprised by Harrington’s decision. On behalf of the taxpayers of Ocean Township we will still ask for the injunction,” he said.
Loch Arbour voters are scheduled to cast ballots on Tues., April 4 to decide the future of the village’s school children and its school tax rate- that is unless Ocean Township is successful in having the court injunction issued against the vote.
“Unless there is an injunction, voters will go to the polls on April 4,” Fernicola said recently.
The Loch Arbour Board of Commissioners recently passed a resolution officially putting the question on the ballot. Voting will be from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. at the Loch Arbour municipal building.
Harrington set April 4 as the date for the special referendum that will ask villagers to vote on this question: “Should the Village of Loch Arbour withdraw from the Ocean Township School district and form a separate school district which would enter into send-receive relationships with the West Long Branch School district for grades K-8 and Shore Regional School district for high school?”
The ballot will likely be approved since it would radically lower the school tax rate for the average home in Loch Arbour by about $11,700 annually but will increase it in Ocean Township by about $200 for a house assessed at $400,000. Ocean Township would lose about $2.1 million in annual revenue from Loch Arbour.
If voters pass the ballot question, Loch Arbour will form 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 is now the case.
Right now Loch Arbour residents pay about $145,000 to educate each of its 14 students in Ocean Township schools while it costs about $16,500 to educate each Ocean Township student. Fernicola said Loch Arbour’s tuition rate to West Long Branch and Shore Regional will be about $16,000 to $17,000 for each student
The 2008 state School Funding Reform Act (SFRA) repealed a longtime agreement that limited Loch Arbour’s contribution to the Ocean Township school district to no more than $300,000 a year. After the SFRA, Loch Arbour property owners saw their annual school tax rise by $1.3 million, or to around $1.6 million.
The village’s school tax bill, now based on property valuation, has risen to about $2.1 million annually and increased village residents taxes by about $15,000 a year on the average home- an increase affecting some resident’s ability to continue to live in their home, especially people on fixed incomes.