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.
The excess aid Asbury Park gets annually is two-thirds of the money that Freehold Boro needs to bond.