Waiting for the school regionalization study being done by the Henry Hudson school district should still allow sufficient time for the Atlantic Highlands governing body to pass a resolution requesting the question on the November ballot if the Hudson study is completed and released by mid-May.
That was the opinion of Attorney Vito Gagliardi, Jr. of the Porzio, Bromberg & Newman law firm, who gave presentations and answered questions from the public along with Kerri A. Wright, both attorneys in the Porzio Bromberg & Newman law firm that already conducted studies of the regionalization question.
Both Highlands and Sea Bright passed the necessary resolutions earlier this year asking the Commissioner of Education to consider whether they and Atlantic Highlands could be regionalized as a pre-K through 12 district with a single board of education. Atlantic Highlands has not yet passed a similar resolution, preferring to wait on any action until a study being done for the Henry Hudson district is completed, something that is anticipated sometime in late April or May.
Should Atlantic Highlands decline to pass a similar resolution, the other two boroughs could act on their own, and if voters approved the regionalization of those two communities, it would lead to Atlantic Highlands students being tuition-paying students at Henry Hudson and maintaining their own PreK through 6th grade with its board of education, a possibility no one appears to favor.
The deadline for having any question on the November ballot is Aug. 15. In order for that to happen, the resolutions submitted to the Department of Education would have to be approved by the Commissioner and the wording and information of the specific question would have to be determined by the governing bodies. The question would have to include specifics on the tax levy for each municipality, and all would have to be completed in to meet that Aug. 15 deadline for a vote in November.
That was one of several questions answered at a special meeting of the Highlands Borough Council called to enable residents of this borough, Atlantic Highlands and Sea Bright to learn more and ask questions about the process to be established under which voters can make a determination on whether they want to eliminate the three local boards governing the three schools in the two boroughs and also enable Sea Bright to become a third municipality in the district, all under one regional board of education.
Mayor Carolyn Broullon opened the meeting with a brief history of how often local towns have considered further regionalization. She added it was an opportunity for the law firm attorneys retained to do a study already completed to answer questions that have been raised because of recent numerous articles and the “always correct Facebook” comments.
Citing off and on discussions of regionalization with Sea Bright or between Highlands and Atlantic Highlands rather than the current three boards for the three schools in Highlands and Atlantic Highlands, Broullon said the question surfaced again in 2019, leading to the present action and the consideration of Sea Bright becoming a part of a regional preK through 12 school district.
Atlantic Highlands Councilman Jon Crowley took exception to the meeting saying “this shouldn’t be happening tonight,” but rather should be waiting for the Hudson report which, he said, will include more information on facilities, transportation and other issues not included in the Porzio report. But Gagliardi explained the purpose of the meeting was not to discuss how each of the aspects of both reports would be handled but rather the more timely information on what has to be done to get the question on the ballot and the time frame that must be followed in order to let the voters decide. There would still be time for informational sessions in all communities to inform residents of all ramifications before the November election, he said.
Dr. Tara Beams, superintendent of the current tri-district in Highlands and Atlantic Highlands, questioned the timeliness and accuracy of the Porzio researched study, saying bringing in Sea Bright to the current tri-district “comes with complications.” She said the study still underway at Hudson incorporate either the current tri-district regionalizing itself into a PreK through 12 district rather than the current three districts, and as another alternative, also includes a study of regionalizing with another community, mainly Sea Bright. There are a lot of unknowns, the superintendent said, and said it would be five to ten years before the redistricting would actually be completed, because of Sea Bright obligations to Oceanport, where their elementary school children attend school and Shore Regional High School.
Gagliardi corrected Beams, explaining the recent law which was co-sponsored by State Senator Declan O’Scanlon, unanimously approved by both legislative bodies and signed by the Governor in January, prevents such a long term delay and established a mechanism which approves the departure of Sea Bright from the other former districts.
The law provides for Sea Bright students to be incorporated into the new regional district in a manner so as not to disrupt students, he said. This is accomplished by enabling the students currently in one school to complete the grades within that school, then, when they move from the elementary to the middle school, or the middle school to the high school, it would be then they would make the move to the tri-district schools, rather than that the schools in Oceanport or Shore Regional. Such a process would be completed within six years and would allow for tax changes to be established now, not in ten years.
With only a handful of questions posed by the fewer than 50 people in attendance at the meeting, the meeting lasted less than 90 minutes and ended with Mayor Broullon thanking everyone for attending, and reminding residents regionalization is not only a question of economics but also socialization and educational opportunities for the children