Home Rule or School Rule

Atlantic Highlands resident Mark Fisher researches everything thoroughly, probably goes to more meetings than members of many boards, and is chairman of the parking committee for the Borough. He rarely gives his opinion at a council meeting, but when he does, it’s only after researching, asking a series of questions and making suggestions or offering alternatives.

He attended the July 20th meeting of the Sea Bright Mayor and Council because he saw the agenda included talking about the possibility of Sea Bright youngsters being able to go to schools closer to home (at Atlantic Highlands Elementary, Highlands Elementary and Henry Hudson Regional) than they currently do (at Oceanport Elementary and Shore Regional High School), and knowing the issue has been brought up for several years in the past, involving Sea Bright, neighboring Highlands and Atlantic Highlands. The following is Mr. Fisher’s report re-printed rather than re-written:

At that Sea Bright meeting last week, their Mayor and Council passed not only a resolution approving funding to have the 2019 Regionalization Feasibility Study updated (SB Res. 144-2021), but also approved petitioning the Commissioner of Education for authorization to hold a referendum on creating a K-12 All-Purpose Regional School District consisting of students from Sea Bright, Atlantic Highlands and Highlands (SB Res. 145-2021)

After the meeting Mr. Fisher wrote an informational letter to residents on his e-mail list, formed to provide information About Atlantic Highlands Borough meetings and other important AH topics. (Email AHNewsByMarkFisher@gmail.com). His motto: “Trust, but verify”.

Mr. Fisher wrote:

In 2019, Sea Bright Borough approached Henry Hudson, Atlantic Highlands and Highlands Boroughs and Boards of Education officials in the hopes of having their school children attend our three schools. Currently Sea Bright children attend Oceanport elementary schools and Shore Regional High School. Obviously, the logistics of moving students from their current schools is complicated, with many obvious and peripheral questions left to be answered.

A Regionalization Feasibility Study was commissioned in 2019 by the three boroughs involved. In addition to the COVID pandemic bringing this entire process to a halt, it also skewed the data of the 2019 Feasibility Study. Post-pandemic, activity has once again increased with the regionalization effort.

In addition, on June 30 the NJ State Senate approved Bill #3488 providing funding for efforts to move small school districts toward considering regionalization. The bill awaits Governor Murphy’s signature.

A few months ago, prior to that legislation being approved, the AHES Board of Education received funding through a state grant to conduct its own Feasibility Study; that Study is in the works.

Sea Bright also realizes the importance of having the 2019 Feasibility Study information updated to current economic conditions; at their July 20 meeting, the Sea Bright Borough Council approved funding to have the 2019 Regionalization Feasibility Study updated (SB Res. 144-2021)

Sea Bright also approved petitioning the Commissioner of Education for authorization to hold a referendum on creating a K-12 All-Purpose Regional School District consisting of students from Sea Bright, Atlantic Highlands and Highlands (SB Res. 145-2021)

Seeing the two Resolutions as agenda items, Mr. Fisher attended the Sea Bright Council meeting to ask the following: if the entire cost of the Feasibility Study Update would be borne solely by Sea Bright Borough? He was told Sea Bright hopes Highlands and Atlantic Highlands will contribute, but if Bill 3488 is signed by the Governor, whomever pays for the Study, all of its cost would eventually be reimbursed by the state.

He asked if the Sea Bright Council is aware of the second Feasibility Study currently under way commissioned by the AHES BOE through a LEAP Grant? Mr. Fisher said that judging by the reaction of the Council members, some may not have known about it.

He asked if Sea Bright will be holding town hall meeting(s), and if so, when? He was told Yes, town hall meeting(s) will be held, they have not yet been scheduled, but time and date will be announced when decided.

In response to whether Council expected having a School Regionalization question on the November 2021 election Ballot, he was told there is a good chance that the towns won’t be ready to have the question on this November’s General Election ballot, but should it be, the resolution passed at their meeting would allow it. But, without all three towns doing it together, it would be pointless.

Mr. Fisher followed that up with asking if Council was aware that August 14 is the deadline to petition adding a referendum question? He was again told Yes, and having the Resolution passed would make it possible if so desired. Even if the Feasibility Studies weren’t yet completed? he asked and was told without up-to-date Feasibility Studies in the hands of all three Boroughs, there won’t be buy-in.

The Regionalization question needs to be answered: Does Atlantic Highlands want to be a part of it, Yes or No? It’s necessary to await the release of the two Feasibility Studies to have the information necessary to move forward with town hall meetings in Atlantic Highlands. It is his recommendation that a parallel initiative should be to pass a resolution SOON similar to Sea Bright’s Res. 145-2021 allowing this borough to petition the Commissioner of Education to have the option of adding a Regionalization question on the November 2021 General Election ballot.

If the regionalization question doesn’t appear on the November 2021 General Election ballot, the AH Council should do everything possible to have a March 2022 Special Referendum possible. That voting process would be funded by the state.

Finally, Mr. Fisher, in fairness, believes Atlantic Highlands should fund its fair-share of updating the 2019 Feasibility Study; the borough funded 1/3 of the original study’s cost, and agreed to fund these costs in the initial meetings. Once the process is completed, these costs will be reimbursed by the state to the Boroughs that funded them.

He reminded residents that they have important decisions to make!

The Atlantic Highlands Mayor and Council took no formal action at this week’s meeting, but recognized once again that Bill S-3488 awaits Governor Murphy’ s signature, which is expected. Even without it, however, the Bill would become law on Sept. 14.


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