By DON STINE
Loch Arbour voters on Tuesday overwhelmingly voted in support of a special ballot question that would end their educational ties with the Ocean Township school district.
In a 93-to-4 vote, voters approved the following ballot 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 was expected to be approved since it would radically lower the school tax rate for the average home in Loch Arbour by about $11,700 annually but perhaps increase it in Ocean Township by about $200 for a house assessed at $400,000. Ocean Township will now lose about $2.1 million in annual revenue from Loch Arbour.
Mayor Paul Fernicola said that 72 percent of the village’s 135 registered voters casts ballots, with 96 percent of those voting in favor of the ballot question.
“Loch Arbour residents voted tonight and had the right to self-govern where their children are educated and I hope the Ocean Township Board of Education respects the vote in Loch Arbour and dismisses their appeal so both towns can move on,” he said.
Fernicola also praised the Ocean Township school district for providing Loch Arbour’s children with a quality education for decades.
“I sincerely thank the teachers and administrator of the Ocean Township school district for their many years of professionalism and dedication to educate our children,” he said.
He said Loch Arbour students will begin attending their new schools this September.
The Ocean Township school district still has a case pending in the Appellate Court challenging State Department of Education Commissioner Kimberley Harrington’s original decision, posted on Dec. 22 of last year, allowing Loch Arbour to have the special ballot to begin with.
But Ocean Township school officials recently said that they will continue challenging the ballot question, with Business Administrator Kenneth Jannarone saying that allowing a ballot to remove Loch Arbour from the school district is a “bad decision” by both Harrington and the court.
“I think this is a very sad day in New Jersey for education. I think these rulings are setting a dangerous precedent that creates a scenario where affluent communities become tax havens against supporting public education,” he said.
“Where else in New Jersey can you live and not pay school taxes based on the assessed valuation of your home? We are talking about affluent communities creating an inequity with other communities. I am sure adult communities would love to pay school taxes based on the number of students they send,” he said.
Ocean Township Superintendent of Schools James Stefankiewicz said that such school tax arrangements are “sweet deals, Cadillac deals.”