Low hopes for any change to high school funding formula

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 CAPE MAY – The city’s lone representative on the Lower Cape May Regional Board of Education is expected to ask for a voter referendum on the regional school’s funding formula at the board’s Jan. 24 meeting.

“Although we pay for 35 percent of the cost of the school, because of the convoluted way they have for deciding who to put on the board – based on number of kids you put in school – we don’t even have a second to his resolution unless the representative from West Cape May or one of the representatives from Lower Township seconds the resolution,” said Councilman Jack Wichterman, speaking at the Tuesday, Jan. 15 township council meeting.

“I hope one of those eight people has guts enough to second the resolution, so it can at least be discussed. I would be very surprised if it ever got to a vote,” he said.

The regional school district’s funding formula is based on property values, rather than the number of students a district sends.

Last November, city council approved hiring attorney Vito Gagliardi to study the possibility of changing the regional school funding formula and decrease the cost of sending Cape May students to the Lower Cape May Regional School District.

In December, council passed a resolution that noted city taxpayers pay more than $70,000 per pupil for the 85 students in grades 7 to 12 that they send to the high school, as compared to the $7,000 per pupil cost for Lower Township residents.

The regional school district was established in 1956, with costs based on enrolment from the three towns – Lower, Cape May and West Cape May. In 1975, the state legislature mandated that costs were to be based on real estate values rather than enrollment.

The formula to determine representation remains based on student population, however. That means Cape May and West Cape May each have one representative on the school board. Lower Township has seven.

Gary Gilbert is Cape May’s lone representative on the regional board.

Wichterman said he would attend the Jan. 24 school board meeting. Deputy Mayor William Murray thanked him for his persistence in the school funding fight.

“Thank you, jack, for the work you are doing in this area,” said Murray. “He is moving things along as best as they can be moved along. We will see what happens. We probably know what is going to happen, but it is a prelude to other things.”

Before the city can seek the intervention of the courts, it must exhaust all other remedies available to it – including the request for a ballot referendum.

“We are doing what we have to do trying to move within the bounds of what we are advised to do by our attorney,” said Wichterman.

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