By DON STINE
Loch Arbour and Ocean Township continue to butt heads over each municipality’s educational formula and it seems the state Department of Education is the only agency that can straighten things out.
Ocean Township contends that the existing education formula, which provides $2.1 million annually in Loch Arbour school taxes to the district and sends village students to Ocean Township schools, remains in place. Loch Arbour, however, insists that the old formula is done effective July 1.
“As of right now, we have not been given any written direction to remove Loch Arbour from our budget by the (state) Department of Education. We were told to include that (Loch Arbour) revenue in our budget, which we did. Until we have written guidance otherwise then we are not changing it. And the board has acted accordingly,” Ocean Township Superintendent of Schools James Stefankiewicz said earlier this week.
In a 93-to-4 vote, Loch Arbour voters on March 14 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 increase it in Ocean Township by about $200 for a house assessed at $400,000. Ocean Township will now eventually lose about $2.1 million in annual revenue from Loch Arbour.
The ballot affirms that Loch Arbour will withdraw from Ocean Township for the next school year, Mayor Paul Fernicola said.
“Loch Arbour residents will begin seeing school tax relief effective July 1,” he said.
But Ocean Township school officials disagree.
Stefankiewicz said that Ocean Township’s 2017-2018 school budget has been approved by county school officials but that the school board has also examined various options to deal with the $2.1 million shortfall, should it occur.
“The board has discussed multiple options but until we get any written guidance the school board believes there is nothing to address because our budget has been approved. We are moving forward with the status quo until we are directed by the DOE otherwise,” he said.
Stefankiewicz said the district still is anticipating Loch Arbour students attending township schools for the 2017-2018 school year. The school board also sent an April 28 letter to all Loch Arbour parents informing them of this decision. .
“They are attending our schools next year and we have not heard otherwise. What we don’t want is to get lost in all of this because of the kids. It is a financial issue for Loch Arbour and Ocean Township. However, primary in all this, is the students. Students attending Ocean Township schools for many years should not be ripped from their district at this stage. This is not only contrary to education but also has a terrible impact socially and emotionally,” he said.
But Loch Arbour officials have a different point of view and say they fully expect to pull out of the Ocean Township school district effective July 1 after complying with all state requirements to do so.
According to state statute, after voters approved ceding from Ocean Township on March 14 the village created its own Board of Education and adopted its own 2017/2018 school budget, all within the time constraints imposed by the state.
In an April 5 letter to the Ocean Township Board of Education, Fernicola said the village made it clear that after voters approved the school referendum that the village will be leaving the district.
“We are providing this advance notice so that the Ocean Township BOE will have sufficient and ample time to make any necessary budget adjustments for the 2017-2018 school year and beyond,” the letter said.
In response to the Ocean Township school board’s April 28 letter advising residents their children will be attending Ocean Township, village officials sent their own May 10 letter to residents stating the school board’s letter “was inaccurate” and that students will begin attending West Long Branch schools and Shore Regional High School this fall.
The letter said that the Ocean Township school board had anticipated that the village would not be able to form its own school board and adopt its own budget by the mid-May statutory deadline.
On May 1, Loch Arbour Board of Education members were sworn in and its $692,000 budget adopted and sent to county school officials for approval. It was approved on May 3 and adopted by the school board on May 8.
“We complied with the deadlines and Ocean Township jumped the gun and is now blaming the state,” Fernicola said.
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 Fernicola said he does not expect this case to be heard until after the new school year begins this September.