Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Administrative Law Judge recommends that Freehold Boro's voters be Overruled on Bond Referendum

Administrative Law Judge Susan Scarola has recommended that Commissioner of Education David Hespe overrule the voters of Freehold Boro and authorize a $32.9 million bond in order to expand school capacity in what has become New Jersey's most overcrowded school district.

No one disputes that crowding is intense in Freehold Boro. The district's schools were built to educate 1,148 students but now educate 1,700 students. Freehold Boro's response to this has been to convert libraries into classrooms (with no walls separating the classes), bus about 200 students to Freehold Township, and "packing students on top of each other."

(Freehold Boro rents the six classrooms from Freehold Township at $120,000, or $20,000 per classroom, or $111 per classroom per day. Freehold Township is able to rent the space to Freehold Boro because Freehold Township's student population has fallen by over 500 students since 2010. (and yet it has not lost aid because of that))

In low turnout elections, Freehold Boro's voters have twice rejected bonding $32.9 million to build 23 new classrooms, a cafeteria and more gym space.

Although the rejection of the bonding is disappointing, it is entirely understandable since Freehold Boro's taxes are already 10% above Local Fair Share and its municipal taxes are fairly high as well. In 2015, Freehold Boro's Effective Tax Rate the fifth highest in Monmouth County. Also, Freehold Boro's voters are well aware that Freehold Boro's schools are ripped off in state aid and believe that they - the taxpayers of Freehold Boro - are being unfairly asked to carry the burden of a very poor, non-English speaking population.

The tax impact of the bonding would be $278 per year on an average tax bill which is now only $6,175.

State Senator Jennifer Beck (R) agrees with Freehold Boro's voters on state aid, clearly saying:

“It is unconscionable to me that the state would hinder the ability of Freehold Borough to educate its children adding it is the “responsibility of the state, not local taxpayers.”

Freehold Boro's Board of Education and Superintendent know Freehold Boro's taxes are already high. They also know that even if David Hespe approves their request that the money will do nothing to address Freehold Boro's inadequate operating aid and the town cannot pay higher taxes on top of the tax increase that may come from the bonding.  Thus Freehold Boro's school leadership has also asked Judge Scarola for more state aid:

Freehold Borough Superintendent of Schools Rocco Tomazic spoke with passion and conviction during a public hearing before Administrative Law Judge Susan Scarola and cited the reasons why the Freehold Borough K-8 School District needs help from the state to provide a thorough and efficient education to the town’s children as mandated by law.

However, based on what I have read about Judge Scalora's decision (see here and here), the Judge only recommended that David Hespe give permission to Freehold Boro to bond the $32.9 million. The reporting could be incomplete, but it seems like Judge Scalora was silent on state aid.

Nonetheless, Freehold Boro's Board of Education and Superintendent Rocco Tomazic say that they will continue to work to receive more state aid. "We are also continuing our work with legislators and the Department of Education to address our state aid underfunding." 
Freehold Boro's state aid/tax situation is all the more glaringly awful because it is in Monmouth County, home of some of New Jersey's most savage aid inequalities.

Monmouth County contains several of New Jersey's worst aid hoarders, including Asbury Park ($23.4 million in excess aid), Freehold Regional ($20.2 million in excess aid), Manalapan-Englishtown Regional ($12 million in excess aid), Keansburg ($9.3 million in excess aid.)  
The excess aid Asbury Park gets annually is two-thirds of the money that Freehold Boro needs to bond.  

The decision to overrule Freehold Boro's voters and authorize a large tax increase is a difficult one, but Freehold Boro's aid situation is appallingly unfair and is a shame of the state.  It is also an illustration of the deep unfairness of the Abbott Regime and the continuing all-or-nothing (or all or 38% to be literal) nature of NJ Supreme Court's mandate on construction aid.


Please, if you want to help Freehold Boro and other underaided districts, please sign this state aid petition from Our Fair Share!


See Also:

"Freehold Boro: Where Children Are Packed On Top of Each Other."

"Freehold Boro: Where Population Growth and Stagnant Aid Collide in the Worst Way"

1 comment:

  1. I am reading this particular article very late, but I've been aware of this issue for some time now. I graduated from Freehold Boro High School 4 years ago, and despite being the smallest in student body population in FRHSD, we are even smaller when comparing the size of the actual school. When I had been admitted, the population was just over 1,000, and by the time I graduated, they had added 300 to the student body... walking around the hallways between periods was a disaster. Teachers had very divided attention, and that's because the student : teacher ratio has gotten out of control. Unfortunately, I am a resident of Freehold Township, and have no say in Freehold Boro elections. However, the fact that it is coming out of local taxes for Freehold Borough taxpayers is ridiculous. The town was just starting to bloom in the past couple of decades, and now you're making an already poor population, even less capable. Is there some inherent bias to the influx of Mexican workers and students that have moved in? Regardless of the reason, Freehold Boro should not settle for this. It is the state's responsibility to give proper aid to a town in expansion.