Henry Hudson Regional School
Henry Hudson Regional School (AHH file photo)

HIGHLANDS  –  “We are all working together to make something really good for all of us; they will be looking at us from all over because we are on the verge of something historic.”

These were some of the comments at Wednesday night’s special meeting of the Mayor and Council to give all interested parties  still another opportunity ask questions, get answers and give opinions on the proposed Pre-K-12 regionalization proposal for this borough, Henry Hudson Regional, Atlantic Highlands and Sea Bright.

Professionals from the Porzio office, Kerry Wright and Vito Gagliardi were at the meeting to answer any questions and to explain the financial aspects, board makeup and procedures that would be the future should voters approve it through a public question. Atlantic Highlands Mayor and Council has the resolution on their agenda at Thursday’s meeting to ask the Commissioner of Education if regionalization for the three boroughs can be put on the ballot in November. Both Highlands and Sea Bright adopted similar resolutions several months ago.

Mayor Carolyn Broullon said already meetings are scheduled, including one Thursday afternoon, among board members, borough administrators, school officials, including Dr Tara Beams, and council members to move ahead with discussions on the specific question that would be on the November ballot.

Gagliardi said should Atlantic Highlands approve the resolution at their meeting, a single resolution, also approved by the three boards of education would then go to the Education Commissioner for permission for the ballot.  The resolution would include the wording for the question that would appear on the ballot.  He estimated the Commissioner would have a decision back to the boroughs within a few weeks, given her advanced knowledge the towns have been working on that possibility.  That would leave sufficient time to meet the Aug. 14 deadline to have the question on the November ballot.

Bouillon said at the beginning of the meeting that many questions concerning a new structure would be explained by the professionals during the meeting. And they were.

If regionalization is approved in November, he estimated that if the school boards and administrators could complete all their portions of the new plan, regionalization could be in place by July 2023, in time for the start of the 2023-2024 school year.

A new school board of education would be formed, a nine member board made up of four members from each Highlands and Atlantic Highlands, and one member from Sea Bright. The original new board would be comprised of representatives from each of the current boards, with Sea Bright naming its single representative inasmuch as they currently do not have a board of education. Elections after the formation would be held every year, establishing staggered three year terms.

Nor will there be any difference in how the individual borough’s taxes for school purposes are determined, Gagliardi said. Currently, the assessed valuation of each town together with the number of students in the school system are both used to determine the tax percentage for each borough. Broullon pointed out that current figures show Highlands has an increased assessed valuation of 14 percent in 2022, Atlantic Highlands has a 10 per cent increased valuation, and Sea Bright 12 percent. The figures change every year, because of students in the schools and assessed valuations, and that same formula in place now would continue under the new regionalization.

All three boroughs must approve the regionalization question by a majority vote, Gagliardi said, before the tri town PreK-12 regionalization can be approved.

Gagliardi also pointed out that the regionalization and its operation is so structured that no town’s savings could drop by more than 20 per cent and both Highlands and Atlantic Highland will recognize and receive substantial savings immediately based on current figures. In response to Atlantic Highlands Councilman Brian Boms, Gagliardi said the boroughs will experience “at least a healthy six figure savings every year.” He pointed out that Sea Bright’s costs would be higher in the beginning but ultimately they too would recognize substantial savings similar to Highlands and Atlantic Highlands.

With fewer than 30 people present for this, the second presentation by the professionals who conducted the study for the three towns,  there was an air of positive thinking and accomplishment that “we are working together to make something really good happen for all of us,” as Broullon said. Her remarks were echoed by former Highlands Board of Education member Patricia Robertson who said, “finally it looks like we are moving forward,” citing newspaper accounts of how many times the local boards have studied, or proposed study of a more economic regional district, but nothing was ever accomplished.

Atlantic Highlands resident Eileen Cusick asked for and received assurance that educators are already in the talking and planning stages for the successful integration of the Sea Bright students into a new environment, and urged that attention to the students be strongly considered.  The plan allows for Sea Bright parents to make the choice of whether they want their students to continue in their present transportation to Oakhurst and Shore Regional High School or begin their next school year in the new regional plan.

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Muriel J. Smith

Muriel J Smith

Muriel J Smith an award-winning journalist, former newspaper editor, book author and historian, Her newest venture is her blog, www.venividiscripto.com in...