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Vote to Combine Toms River, Seaside Heights School Districts Set for March 12

The Hugh J. Boyd elementary school in Seaside Heights, 2023. (Photo: Shorebeat)

The Hugh J. Boyd elementary school in Seaside Heights, 2023. (Photo: Shorebeat)

After some doubt was cast on the feasibility of holding a referendum on the Toms River Regional school district subsuming the Seaside Heights district and moving its middle and high school classes to TRRS facilities, legal notices have been filed and polling places announced for the special election.

Seaside Heights currently operates its own school district that provides pre-school to sixth grade classes at the Hugh J. Boyd Elementary School on Bay Boulevard. After being promoted from sixth grade, students move on to the Central Regional school district, based in Bayville, for middle school and high school classes. The controversial plan to combine Seaside and TRRS has been strongly opposed by some residents, teachers at the Boyd school (which would be shuttered under the plan) and representatives from the Central Regional school district, which would lose funding from the Seaside Heights ratable base to fund its schools.

Some Seaside Heights residents also fear that, if property values in the borough rise above those of Toms River, the per-student cost to send a minimal number of pupils across the bridge will skyrocket into the hundreds of thousands of dollars, as has been the historical case in neighboring Seaside Park. State officials have pledged a phased-approach to the financial processes of combining the districts, however tax savings was only guaranteed for 10 years, after which Seaside Heights property assessments for school purposes would be based on an existing – and complicated – equivalency formula.

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Toms River residents would likely see a financial benefit to the plan since Seaside Heights would become a full constituent member of the district rather than a tuition-based member, though it is unlikely that revenue would shift in any dramatic way for several years.

The vote comes after a two-round regionalization study was conducted at the behest of the state, which funded the study as part of an aid package to Seaside Heights aimed at bridging the gap between ratables lost during Superstorm Sandy and the current day. While a well-documented building boom is underway in Seaside Heights, the gap has yet to be fully closed, and Trenton officials have endorsed regionalization as a cost-saving measure.

Under the phased phased approach, Seaside Heights has stipulated savings of $1.2 million for the first five years, which will be reduced by $200,000 each year until exhausted. The total tax reduction in the first year for the current regional members totals $2 million, or about 1.1 percent of each member’s current tax levy. The savings for the original member communities triple over the ten-year period.

The report states that without modification, the five-year impact for homes assessed at $300,000 in Seaside Heights would see a tax increase of $109. With the modification, during the first five years, a home in Seaside Heights assessed at $300,000 would see a tax reduction of about $544. Ultimately over the long term, however, Seaside Heights residents would see a tax increase despite overall savings in educating its students.

According to the study, a Toms River home assessed at $300,000 would see a tax reduction of about $95 annually on average over the five-year period following the implementation of the expanded regional district compared to the status quo. Similarly, homeowners in Pine Beach would see an annual tax reduction of $91, while homeowners in Beachwood and South Toms River would realize annual savings of $83 and $75 respectively.

Inn ten years, the average Seaside Heights homeowner with a $300,000 property assessment would pay $153 more in school taxes, while Toms River residents would save $99 per year, with similar savings in the smaller mainland districts.

The phase-in includes subsidies to Seaside Heights, as shown in the chart below, provided by the state.

Seaside Heights is projected to add an average of 294 students to Toms River Regional over an initial five-period at an average annual cost of $2.4 million. Over a ten-year period, the enrollment is projected to be 277 students at an average cost of $2.3 million. Both districts have seen declining enrollment from historic highs.

There is more to the regionalization effort than money, however, with those who authored the study having questioned whether students with special needs in Seaside Heights – a significant portion of the student population given its transient nature – would be better served in a district with more resources and academic programming.

Consultants hired to perform the study noted that Seaside Heights’ student population has been historically transient with a large number of students who require English language curriculum and other special services. These services, the initial study said, could be delivered with better results in the larger TRRS district with more resources and programs at its disposal.

Mary Robinson-Cohen, a former teacher and Roosevelt Public School District superintendent who is also an attorney, was one of the consultants who led the study.

“In all of the state testing, unfortunately, the children were lagging behind,” said Cohen. “There were no categories where the children were advanced-proficient and in the other categories they were minimally proficient. … The children were, mainly, below proficient.”

More on the initial report can be found in Shorebeat’s original story published late last year.

The new, 104-page report that was released last week is available online as well. This report also indicates something of an endorsement of the regionalization plan.

The word-for-word copy of the ballot question is as follows:

Shall the Borough of Seaside Heights join the K-12 Toms River Regional School District as a constituent member, thereby withdrawing the Borough of Seaside Heights as a constituent member of the limited purpose Central Regional School District, with students from Seaside Heights being phased out of Central Regional School District and phased into Toms River Regional School District by grade; and with the property tax levy of the Borough of Seaside Heights being phased into Toms River Regional School District’s current equalized property value tax apportionment formula with Seaside Heights paying the educational tax levy associated with its current elementary district plus the regional tax levy to Central Regional for the year prior to regionalization while being provided with $1.2 million in savings each year in years 1-5, and further savings in years 6-10 while transitioning to 100% equalized property value, with Toms River Regional taxpayers estimated to save tens of millions of dollars over the same 10-year period?

The accompanying explanatory statement is as follows:

A feasibility study was commissioned to analyze the educational, financial, and racial impacts of Seaside Heights Board of Education withdrawing from the Central Regional School District and becoming a constituent member of the Toms River Regional Schools. The feasibility study was adopted by the Borough of Seaside Heights, Seaside Heights Board of Education, and Toms River Regional Schools Board of Education. Regionalizing Seaside Heights by having its approximately 300 K-12 students educated at Toms River Regional Schools will reduce the number of school districts, save money, and improve efficiency. According to the feasibility study, the transitional allocation methodology would result in projected tax savings of $9,000,000 for Seaside Heights, $35,700,000 for Toms River, $2,000,000 for Beachwood, $680,000 for Pine Beach and $480,000 for South Toms River over a ten-year period.

The polls will be open Tuesday, March 12,2024 between the hours of 1:30 p.m. and 8 p.m. A list of polling places and the full ballot is embedded below this story.

Ballot Copy:

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