Toothless in Ocean County

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Here’s the problem with Corzine’s school consolidation initiative: it won’t work. Witness the forum held in Ocean County, where the Executive County Superintendent Bruce Greenfield pleaded with a packed house of residents to consider the economic benefits of shared services and cost efficiencies.

This particular county is ripe for consolidation. One proposal floating out there would combine three tiny school districts — Island Heights (one school, 110 kids, $15,652 total cost per pupil), Seaside Heights (one school, 207 kids, $16,250 total cost per pupil), and Seaside Park (one school, 78 kids, $19,156 total cost per pupil) — with Toms River, a large18-school district with a total cost per pupil of $10,496. But, as Greenfield pointed out in an article today in the Asbury Park Press, “Once it’s voted down, as far as regionalization goes, that’s it.”

That’s the problem: no teeth. Everyone acknowledges that there’s no way for consolidation to work without at least one district ending up with higher property taxes, and suggestions for incentives from the State to cover some of the cost seem to have gone nowhere fast. So, one district says “no,” and we can stick the fork in it. It’s done and can’t be brought back again for voter consideration.

Here’s a suggestion: how about a majority of districts getting the final say instead of one town having the power to scotch the whole deal? Yes, some town would have to pay more, but maybe instead of going through all the trouble and expense of dead-on-arrival consolidation proposals, we come up with a plan to partially compensate the losing minority with some cash to alleviate a bit of the tax pain?

The most concrete draw of consolidation is to lower property taxes. The more abstract results — desegregating schools, moving beyond our home rule provincialism, cultural change — probably won’t gain traction from enough constituents to garner the necessary “yes” votes, especially when the bar is set so low. Can our governing bodies find a way to create momentum for a movement like this through meaningful incentive programs?

Anyone got some teeth?

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