The Ocean Township School District will appeal Acting State Commissioner of Education Kimberley Harrington’s approval of Loch Arbour’s petition of withdrawal.
“I can confirm that we will appeal the Commissioner of Education’s decision but I can say little else at this time,” Superintendent of Schools James Stefankiewicz [at right] said in a Friday afternoon interview. “We will release a full statement from the Board of Education on Monday.”
The decision came via a Dec. 22 letter, received by Loch Arbour on Thursday.
The primary reasons cited by the incorporated village with a population of less than 200 residents, was crippling school taxes that adversely affected homeowners livelihood and ability to sell their property. Those who did sell were senior residents on fixed incomes who could no longer afford to live in homes they owned for some 60 years.
The large tax burden was a result of the 2008-09 Student Funding Reform Act [SFRA] put in place under the Corzine administration, Mayor Paul Fernicola said in a Thursday interview. Prior to that, Loch Arbour was taxed on a 110 percent per pupil calculation or a flat $300,000 levy, whichever was higher. The incorporated village school tax appropriation jumped from $300,00 to $1.8 million and today averages $2.1 million.
The 96 acre village has 131 homes, Fernicola said. Last school year 16 students were enrolled in the district and Fernicola estimates that figure is now 13.
Fernicola [at right] said his repeated requests to find out the exact number of student enrolled in the current school year have gone unanswered but that the number is relevant since it will translate into a higher per pupil calculation for village property owners.
And while voters must cast ballots in a special election to authorize the withdrawal of students from the Ocean Township School District [OTSD], the appeal will not affect the village’s ability to hold the election within the planned 60 day timeframe, Fernicola said.
“We will move forward with the special election because we have a decision in our favor,” Fernicola said. “Just because Ocean will appeal, we will be moving ahead with the decision to send our students to West Long Branch schools and Shore Regional High School.”
Property owners would garner an estimated $11,000 to $12,000 annual tax savings since the per pupil cost would equate to an estimated $16,000 to $17,000 annual tax bill. Last year the average per pupil cost in OTSD was an estimated $125,000.
“I think most people will want the change from the oppressive taxes we have been paying,” Fernicola said Thursday.
For Ocean Township taxpayers, the transition will mean an estimated $166 increase to their annual tax bill.
Fernicola also questioned the district’s decision to move forward with an appeal:
“Much like the lawsuit that Ocean Township filed with the yeshiva on Logan Road that cost $700,000, this appeal will be another waste of Ocean taxpayers dollars,” he said. “Under New Jersey law, a decision by any state agency, including the State Department of Education, is afforded judicial deference because state agencies, as a matter of law, are deemed to have special expertise in interpreting and applying statutes and regulations governing that agency.
“Therefore, the standard of review governing an appeal from any state agency is exceeding difficult for any appellant, like Ocean Township Board of Education, to overcome,” Fernicola said. “Moreover, in this particular case, the Commissioner of Education did not just reject one of Ocean’s arguments but all of the four of five arguments they put forth, all of which were deemed without any merit by the Commissioner of Education.
“The bottom line is that it is clear that the Board of Education tactic is to try to delay the implementation of this decision so that they can exhort another windfall of over $2 million for the 13 kids in Loch Arbour,” he said.
The Asbury Park Sun is affiliated with the triCityNews newspaper.