WARETOWN, NJ - The Ocean Township Board of Education has made no secret of its upcoming financial challenges. Facing a loss of 92% in state funding, the district needs to make some big adjustments. However, that doesn’t include consolidating with another school system.

According to reports, state government representatives have identified 275 districts they say should merge with others. At the very least, those targeted share high schools with other communities. The Ocean Township schools provide public education for students from preschool until the sixth grade. The district then pays tuition and transportation costs to Southern Regional for middle school and high school.

“If the state is going to take away our aid, they really can’t force us to do anything, “said Shawn Denning, Ocean Township Board of Education President. “I understand that there’s this theory that consolidation saves money, but I can’t imagine that it’s a good fit for Waretown.”

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Among the other districts the state has suggested should be consolidated, are Stafford and all of the schools on Long Beach Island. Upon completion of elementary education, these students also move on to the Southern Regional district.

According to Denning, the Ocean Township school district “runs very lean” and has one of the lowest tax rates. “If we consolidate, we are going into a bigger piece, and our taxes will likely go up. We will also lose the level of service that our system has grown accustomed to, as well as the inherent value of having home rule.”

Ocean Township Board of Education Vice President Sue McDowell recently heard firsthand State Senate President Steve Sweeney’s plans regarding the reduction in state aid. She represented the local board at the New Jersey School Board’s Delegate Assembly.

“The suggested emergency option is to increase the two percent cap for special ed, health benefits, and to address facility needs for growing school populations,” reported McDowell.

Currently, New Jersey schools are bound by a two percent increase in taxes. This measure has saved schools that previously worried that voters would vote down even nominal budget increases.

Denning says the state needs to take a look at health benefits costs as well as pensions. He claims they represent major factors as far as the increased financial challenges in Waretown.

Meanwhile, the district has already begun speaking with collective bargaining representatives as a first step in putting together next year’s budget. The Board called on the public to attend meetings to get a clearer picture of what needs to happen without aid from the state.

Stephanie A. Faughnan is a local journalist and Director of Writefully Inspired, a professional writing and resume service. Feel free to contact her at sfaughnan@tapinto.net.