Regionalization - Why is Atlantic Afraid?

Hey People of Atlantic Highlands and Highlands! You better start waking out before more of your rights, your decisions, your individual liberties are ALL taken away from you.

Pay attention before you’re left following the lead of those few, elected or appointed, who sound like they think you have no business thinking, asking, or even being informed on your own, let alone taking any action.

I’m angry for any number of reasons this week, but for now, maybe it’s because the people of Highlands are kind of letting the people of Atlantic Highlands run their lives. One more time.

If you’ve been around long enough, you remember more than half a century or so ago when Atlantic Highlands didn’t want Henry Hudson to be in Highlands, didn’t want their kids going to ‘that town.’ It took the determination and power of the people that got that high school up on the hill on a prime piece of land today’s Admirals are so proud to call their own. In Highlands yet.

Well, it’s the same thing now. Highlands officials, like Sea Bright officials, have taken the steps to let the people have their say on whether they want to save money and regionalize education. But they can’t even get that matter to the people in their towns to decide.

Know why?

Because Atlantic Highlands elected officials don’t care as much as the other two towns to let the people who pay all the bills and support all the businesses in town take the steps necessary to put a question on the November ballot.

Regionalization of schools is a big question across the state. And in January, after every member of the Legislature as well as the Governor approved it, the state plunked down a bunch of money so every town could call in experts and look at their own areas with professional help and review every phase of education as well as the best way to pay for it. That way, local folks would have recommendations on the best ideas for joining forces with other towns for a better education at less money. The legislation and the money given to conduct studies was a sign even state officials thought this was a question that should be decided at the local level. But, it also made clear, if the towns don’t do something themselves, well, then, the state will come in and do what it thinks is right. For your town.

So the three towns…Highlands, Sea Bright, and Atlantic Highlands, have passed that hurdle. The result is the Porzio report, a study completed by the only firm in the state that has ever presented a working, successful, economically improved regional district plan.

But for Atlantic Highlands officials, that isn’t enough. The Tri-district, just Highlands and Atlantic Highlands, paid for another study, just for the two towns. That study was supposed to be finished in March. It wasn’t. Then April. It wasn’t. Now it’s May. And apparently, it’s not done yet. Or if it is, the folks haven’t heard about it yet. As an aside, the fact a plan was paid for and scheduled to be concluded a few months back and still isn’t done makes me wonder how great the study can be on planning the future of education in the first place..

Now to the next step. In order to get a school question on the ballot, a town needs to get the approval of the Commissioner of Education. She has to read the request, study it, talk about it, make a decision, and write back to the towns to let them know she thinks that study is good and workable. The governing bodies then have to put the question on the ballot so the people can make the choice. All of that takes time. And the deadline to have it all finished is August 15. Sounds like a long time off, but think again, it will be summer and there are lots of other things going on. And red tape is always difficult to wade through in a timely fashion. And Atlantic Highlands is still hanging around without either approving a question on the ballot to start the process or holding a workshop on the one plan it has to let the people know what’s in it.

Do you see what I’m saying, Highlands people? You’re letting your next door neighbor stall and keep you from possibly having a vote on future education.

It’s been months since Highlands and Sea Bright have both said yes, please put a question on the ballot. It still needs Atlantic Highlands to say the same thing, according to state law. The Mayor wants the people to be able to have their say, looks like some of the council members want to as well. One councilman’s wife even quit her position on the school board so her husband could have a vote, kind of a weak thing to do. But the other councilman who has a wife on the board is going to be able to vote; his wife didn’t quit what she swore to do simply because things got a little tough.

But none of them backed the mayor when she asked to have a similar resolution approved. Or even a public hearing on the Porzio plan. Some said wait until that second study is finished, then hear them both at the same time.

Somehow, that sounds like an overwhelming amount of information for folks to have to absorb all in one night. What harm is there in hearing one idea being explained one night, then another idea another night? What’s wrong with letting the people know everything that’s going on?

The towns authorized a study, it was done the state paid for it, and workshops have been held in Highlands and Sea Bright. Just not in Atlantic Highlands.

So once again, Highlands residents. You’re letting Atlantic Highlands make decisions for you. You’re letting Atlantic Highlands tell you that by their holding out, they can deny you the right to vote on whether you want to regionalize with them alone, or with them and Sea Bright too.

Get on the phone. Call your friends and relatives in Atlantic Highlands. Ask them why they are letting their elected officials stall in giving not only you, but themselves, the right to hear the whole Porzio plan and cast your own ballot expressing how you think things should go. Ask them to attend Thursday’s meeting of the Atlantic Highlands Council at 7 p.m. and ask why nobody is supporting the Mayor in letting the public say how they want education to go in their towns. Ask them why they don’t want a workshop as soon as possible on the Porzio plan. Then, if the tri-district plan gets done and is released, have yet another workshop on that plan.

Ask them why they don’t ask why they can’t have the same rights as their friends and relatives in Highlands and Sea Bright.