County superintendent report comes out against Cape May attempt to leave LCMR school district

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CAPE MAY COURT HOUSE - The county’s superintendent of schools is advising the state to reject the “alternative configurations” sought by Cape May in its bid to withdraw from or dissolve the Lower Cape May Regional School District.

“New Jersey’s practice of basing a municipality’s contribution on the equalized valuation of property is exactly that…equalized. It creates a level playing field so that all students, no matter what their Zip Code, or amount of their family’s income, have equal access to a quality education,” interim executive regional superintendent for Cape May County Robert L. Bumpus writes in a six page report, released Friday afternoon.

 

The regional school district funding formula is based on property values, rather than the number of students a district sends. The regional school district was established in 1956, with costs based on enrollment 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.  

“In summary a review of all documentation which has been reviewed in the final analysis, favors continuation of Lower Cape May regional’s current program rather than withdrawal or dissolution alternatives.,” according to Bumpus.  

The report relied on studies prepared by consultants retained by Cape May City and Lower Township. Cape May’s “A Feasibility Study to Reconfigure the Lower Cape May Regional School District” was submitted from review last August. Lower Township’s response came in two separate reports, “Report Regarding the Financial Impact of the Proposed Withdrawal of Cape May City, or the Proposed Dissolution of the Lower Cape May Regional School District” and “A Response to the Cape May Study to Reconfigure the Lower Cape May Regional School District,” and was forwarded to the county in January.  

Bumpus also relied on the LCMR school district’s annual financial report for the period ending June 30, 2013 and county school district enrollment figures as of October 2012.  

“Obviously, we are pleased,” said LCMR Superintendent Chris Kobik, in a telephone interview Friday. “(What’s) our next step here? Simply to continue providing the best educational opportunities for our students every day.” 

Lower Township Mayor Michael Beck declined to comment before consulting with the municipality’s solicitor.

The report prepared by Bumpus covered the same areas addressed in the studies from Cape May and Lower, addressing the potential educational, financial and administrative impacts of Cape May’s proposed alternatives.  

“It is evident that the students attending Lower Cape May Regional School District are receiving a well-rounded, thorough and efficient education. There is no educational basis to interrupt or interfere with this positive learning process,” according to Bumpus.  

Bumpus cited the benefit to Cape May City taxpayers in the form of decreased taxes and the substantial increase in taxes that Lower Township and West Cape May residents would see if Cape May’s suggestions moved forward. Ultimately, he determined that “the loss of significant revenue coupled with the increase in taxes to residents in the remaining school districts would create a negative financial situation which would be detrimental to students.”

Cape May’s report calculated that the municipality would reduce taxes by $4,970,000 under the withdrawal alternative, and by $4,980,000 under the dissolution suggestion. West Cape May would see an increase of $646,000 if Cape May were permitted to withdraw from the school district, but would net a $924,000 reduction in taxes if the regional school district were dissolved.  

Lower Township, according to Cape May’s reporting, would pick up 87 percent of the savings (approximately $4,324,000) enjoyed by Cape May City.

Bumpus found that the operational and administrative efficiencies in place throughout the regional school district have already “contributed greatly to the educational environment and quality of education provided to its students”.  

“All three feasibility studies indicate that the Lower Cape May Regional School District is providing a thorough and efficient education for students,” he noted.

Cape May or its board of education has 30 days to petition of the state Commissioner of Education for permission to hold a referendum on the question of withdrawal. If Cape May files for the referendum, Lower and West Cape May would have 15 days to submit their respective responses.

Once answers are received, a panel comprising the commissioner, the state treasurer and the director of local government services would determine whether or not to grant the petition for a referendum within 15 days.

2012 county election data indicates that Lower Township has 15,217 registered voters; Cape May has 1,925; and West Cape May has 830.  

Once the referendum was held, Cape May – if it lost in the tally – could pursue relief in the courts.

 


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