Seaside Park: Don't Blame Us on Budget Cuts
School, municipal officials defend their part in the defeated Central Regional spending plan
Seaside Park Borough Administrator Robert Martucci is used to what he calls "the dog and pony show" when all five towns of the Central Regional school district get together to hash out the defeated budget.
So it didn't bother him that he was probably the most unpopular person at the recent budget hearings.
"The only thing that really matters is when you get to that back room," Martucci said.
Martucci was the only public face for Seaside Park at the meetings. The other officials, including Councilman Michael Tierney, attended only the closed session portions of the meetings.
Some officials from the other four sending towns of the Central Regional school district bashed Seaside Park for not attending the public portions. But Seaside Park officials had their reasons, both Martucci and Tierney said.
Martucci said he and members of the council's finance committee received a 1.5-page budget summary the day before the first joint budget meeting. That was not enough time to review the defeated budget, he said.
Members of the other four towns were throwing numbers around at the first meeting, with little detail about what should be cut, Martucci said.
So he suggested a $3 million cut and said the borough needed more time to review the budget.
"We went into the meeting and told them exactly what we had," Tierney said. "We just got the budget. We hadn't been able to review it."
Martucci said he later found a number of areas that could be cut, including legal fees, Board of Education membership dues and fees, supplies and materials, school maintenance salaries, central services materials and supplies, guidance, transportation and several other items that could be cut without affecting education.
"We didn't cut one iota of education," Martucci said. "There are accounts money is hidden in and everybody knows it."
Eventually all the governing bodies of all five sending towns — Seaside Park, Berkeley Township, Ocean Gate, Island Heights and Seaside Heights — agreed to an $815,239 cut in the budget.
Central Regional Schools Superintendent Triantafillos "Tom" Parlapanides said what will be cut will be announced at the next regular Board of Education meeting.
Both Martucci and Tierney questioned the wisdom of having two separate school districts in Berkeley Township — the Berkeley Township School District and the Central Regional School district.
"A single town with two separate school systems, which is almost as ludicrous as it gets, and they are worried about nine students," Martucci said. "They themselves are the least effective district I can think of."
"I shake my head when I hear that," Tierney said. "They can't begin to entertain putting them (two school districts) together."
Martucci referred to the nine Seaside Park students who currently attend Toms River Regional schools free of charge. That practice will end in September, when parents who want their children to go to Toms River will have to pay tuition costs.
The cost to send a Seaside Park middle or high school student to the Central Regional district can vary between $107,000 to $120,000, depending upon the number of students going at any given year, Martucci said.
And that's the reason the other Central Regional towns want to keep Seaside Park in the district, he said.
"I got news for you," Martucci said. "It was never about the kids. It was always about getting $100,000 per student. It was all about the money."
Seaside Park closed the Seaside Park Elementary School last year. The borough as a sending agreement for K-6 students with the Toms River Regional school district. Students in grades 7-12 go to Central Regional.
It makes financial and educational sense to have Seaside Park students go to a single K-12 district, Martucci said.
He has approached Central Regional officials many times about a long-term phaseout of Seaside Park students from the Central Regional school district, Martucci said.
"As we produce less and less students, they will get less and less students from us," he said. "We won't hit you with a $4 million hole. It would be a long-term phaseout. It has to be good for you and for us. The district wasn't created in a day."
Parlapanides said the only way a withdrawal could work is if it was "tax-neutral" for the other four sending towns.
"Everything needs to be included and upfront," he said. "The key to this is it has to be transparent and tax-neutral. We have a responsibility to all five sending towns."
"If they have a plan with a 10-year withdrawal, send it to the five councils," Parlapanides added. "It's got to be something that isn't going to impact the other towns financially."
Parlapanides did agree that the number of Seaside Park students will probably drop in the future, even if the borough stays with Central Regional.
"No young couple is going to try and buy a $500,000 starter home in Seaside Park," Parlapanides said.
The average home in Seaside Park is assessed at $558,000. The average home in Berkeley Township is assessed at $204,000. Martucci also questioned why Berkeley went 19 years without a revaluation.
Representatives from some of the other sending towns said at the budget meetings that Seaside Park was unable to separate its opposition to the current state statute that calls for school districts to be funded through property tax assessments.
The budget situation is complicated by the ongoing litigation between the two school districts and the Township Council over just where Seaside Park students should attend school.
"It's a mess," Parlapanides said. "It's a big mess. The only ones that really make out are the lawyers."
People out there think that Seaside Park doesn't want Central Regional to exist," he said. "It has to do with what our people have to pay."