Interlaken’s board of education meeting was packed Monday night as residents discussed a pending agreement to educate local students in West Long Branch instead of Asbury Park.
Since the 1940s, the borough has maintained a sending-receiving agreement with Asbury Park. But this year, 20 students attended West Long Branch schools under a sending-receiving agreement that was not approved by the state. Three students attended Shore Regional high school while 17 attended West Long Branch’s elementary or middle schools. The Interlaken BOE has paid tuition to those schools, board president Meredith Fox-Wong said at Monday night’s meeting.
Interlaken is moving toward a formal, state-approved sending-receiving agreement with West Long Branch, board attorney Anthony P. Sciarrillo said at the meeting. Sciarrillo expects the district will know the status of the agreement by June 1.
“I can tell you we’re in the process of filing the appropriate applications … to formalize the relationship with West Long Branch and Shore Regional,” he said.
According to the New Jersey constitution, the residents “have an absolute obligation to find a free, appropriate public education for every child who is a citizen and is domiciled in this community,” Sciarrillo said. “What the board of education has determined is that Asbury Park is not appropriate. I don’t want to cast them in any worse light than they cast themselves by their own test results, but they have been deemed to be failing schools in a failing school district that’s under the jurisdiction of a state auditor. They don’t meet the definition of a free, appropriate public education for the children of this community.”
According to Asbury Park school district communications officer Christina Coloma, both Asbury Park High School and Bradley Elementary School “met AYP last year, and the school district is confident they will again next year.” AYP, or Adequate Yearly Progress, is a series of performance targets schools need to achieve each year to meet the requirements of No Child Left Behind. Also, the high school’s graduation rates are increasing.
“Asbury Park still has challenges, but we are addressing them and we are moving forward,” Coloma said in an email today.
Currently, four students from Interlaken attend Asbury Park schools, she said.
The Interlaken school district is not required to completely sever its ties from Asbury Park to form an agreement with West Long Branch, Sciarrillo said.
A sending-receiving contract between two boards of education must last at least five years, Sciarrillo said. The boards involved have the right to negotiate the rate of tuition for those years.
The cost per pupil at West Long Branch is about $10,000 to $11,000 per year, Sciarrillo said. The cost per pupil in Asbury Park is $17,000. The bulk of public tuition costs is paid through Interlaken property taxes.
If a new sending-receiving agreement is enacted, the Interlaken BOE will continue to operate. It is unlikely the borough will have a representative sit on the boards governing West Long Branch or Shore Regional because according to state statute, a sending district’s children must comprise 10 percent of the school population for that town to have a representative on the receiving district’s board.
Interlaken would need 60 students at the elementary school and 60 students at the high school to have its own representative, which Sciarrillo said is not likely to happen.
Instead of having a voting member on the West Long Branch board, Interlaken “will have certain rights that are outlined” in the sending-receiving contract, Sciarrillo said. “Someone from this board of education will participate in discussions. You will have a voice but not a vote.”
The board is unsure what its contract with Asbury Park says because “no one has been able to find it. We don’t even know if one exists,” he said.
Many residents who move to Interlaken send their children to private school, resident and former councilman Bill Handrahan said during public comment. But sending students to public school “is just how regular people live,” he said. “We’re no different here. Everyone thinks we’re so special. It’s crazy. We’re finally getting into the 20th century. I think it’s a terrific thing [the BOE is] doing and I’m looking forward to getting this thing finalized.”
Some residents expressed concerns over an increase in taxes that could come with more students attending public schools rather than private if a new sending-receiving contract is established with West Long Branch.
Transportation costs could decrease, though, Sciarrillo said. The BOE is also responsible for transporting children to schools like Red Bank Regional or the magnet academies throughout Monmouth County.
“Instead of putting one student here, one there, you’ll arguably put 17 students on a bus to go to the same place,” Sciarrillo said.
Also, a sending-receiving agreement would make extracurricular and athletic activities at Shore Regional available for free to Interlaken children who attend the magnet academies, Sciarrillo said.