The West Windsor-Plainsboro School District is not the only one struggling over issues of tax equity between partners in a regional school district.##M:[more]##
Last week Plainsboro filed a lawsuit in state tax court challenging the process used to determine its share of the tax burden this year as opposed to West Windsor.
But there are instances throughout the state where towns are taking or considering action becasue they feel they are being taxed unfairly.
In September mayors from Oradell, Montvale, Woodcliff Lakes, Franklin Lakes, and North Haledon — all towns that perceive they are paying unfair tax burdens in regional school districts — met to discuss New Jersey’s system.
Under the current formula, towns with higher overall property values pay a greater portion of the tax bill, regardless of how many students they send to a regional school district.
In their meeting, the mayors decided to form a coalition to look at changing the way schools are funded.
Meanwhile, in two districts where towns feel they are shouldering too much of the tax burden — the West Morris Regional School District in Morris County, and the Southern Regional School District in Ocean County — residents are pushing to break up the regional districts.
In the November 2 general election, voters in Chester Borough and Mendham Township overwhelmingly approved a non-binding referendum asking their municipalities to investigate the breakup of the West Morris district.
The three other communities in the district are Chester Township, Mendham Borough, and Washington Township. Between the five communities, there is a wide disparity between per pupil costs.
According to state figures, Washington pays $9,"188 per pupil, Chester Township pays $15,"757, Chester Borough pays $21,"491, Mendham Borough pays $20,"321, and Mendham Township pays $22,"269 per student.
For a regional school district to dissolve, a study must be conducted to prove to the county and state that the breakup would be beneficial, would not affect ethnic ratios, and that the resulting districts would be economically viable. If approved, the measure would then have to win approval of the voters in all partner municipalities in a referendum.
Southern Regional faces a similar battle. Beach Haven, on Long Beach Island, recently hired an attorney to help the borough and the island’s five other towns investigate the breakup of the district.
Southern Regional is an example of extreme inequities in the tax system. According to the state, Harvey Cedars pays a per pupil cost of $127,"752 for the 21 pupils it sends to the district; Long Beach Township pays $116,"129 per pupil for 128 students; Barnegat Light pays $73,"640 per pupil for its 34 students; Surf City pays $42,"327 per pupil for its 73 students; Beach Haven pays $38,"210 per pupil for its 90 students; and Ship Bottom pays $35,"624 per pupil for its 74 students.
Those high costs are compared to the community of Stafford, which sends 2,"049 students to the school district, but only pays a per pupil cost of $3,"649.
Per pupil costs in the WW-P school district are low compared to many of the other communities with tax equity concerns.
According to Gerri Hutner, school district spokesperson, the per pupil cost in WW-P was $11,"154. The district does not break down the per pupil cost for each township, says Hutner.
— Bill Sanservino