SEA BRIGHT – A feasibility study focused on relocating all borough students to a new district is proceeding in a positive direction, officials say. Gagliardi said he willprovide legal advice on thecurrent state of New Jerseyeducation law, and where thetrends may be heading. More clarity on the topic is expected in the following weeks. “You’re not just talking about our three towns and the influx of Sea Bright students. We’re also talking about school districts composed of students from West Long Branch, Oceanport and Monmouth Beach. If this is going to work it has to be done in a way that ensures kids from those towns can be educated properly as well,” Rooney said. Introduced by Senate President Steve Sweeney in April, Path to Progress is a set of 32 recommendations to rein in New Jersey property taxes through more financially prudent practices. In a July 31 interview, Long said Sea Bright taxpayers will shoulder a school tax levy of approximately $3.17 million to send 20 students to Shore Regional High School in 2019-20. Sea Bright Councilman Charles Rooney said the financial aspect of the study could be the most vexing. Highlands administrator Kim Gonzales said the study is just about complete, and in the next month-to-six weeks the cooperative effort should provide a clearer picture of the positive and negative aspects of this possible transfer, including impacts on “creed, race and religion, as well as resources for special needs students, and a financial analysis.” Long said the state’s focus on Path to Progress initiatives has “opened up this possibility.” In January, Sea Bright joined the Borough of Highlands and Atlantic Highlands in committing $20,000 each toward a study that would explore transferring Sea Bright students from the Shore Regional and Oceanport school districts to the Henry Hudson Tri-District, a system that includes Highlands Elementary School, Atlantic Highlands Elementary School and Henry Hudson Regional High School. Henry Hudson Regional High School enrollment was 314 students in 2016-17, and was predicted to reach 377 students by 2021-22. However, that projection could be high. According to the Tri-District website, Henry Hudson Regional High School’s enrollment was 304 students in 2018-19. One of the suggestions called for the increase of regional school districts, while another suggests an expansion of shared services. According to Sea Bright Mayor Dina Long, the discussion surrounding Sea Bright’s sending district has long been a pain point for the borough. Rooney said enrollment“seems to be down” in theTri-District, and since SeaBright has so few students,the impact should be minimalon class sizes. According to a presentation made by the Tri-District in 2016-17, that year Highlands Elementary School enrollment increased to 193 students, while Atlantic Highlands Elementary School enrollment had reached a historic high of 338 students. “New Jersey is making an effort to reconfigure school districts for more efficiency. Our firm works with districts who are looking to reconfigure by examining the educational, financial and demographic impact. We need to ensure that the reconfiguration won’t be creating a segregated or unconstitutional school system,” Gagliardi said. Oceanport’s Maple Place School and Wolf Hill Elementary School will enroll 30 Sea Bright students this coming year. In January, following the signing of joint resolutions to cooperatively fund the feasibility study, Long told The Two River Times it is the governing body’s duty to assess all aspects of its residents’ tax bills, including municipal, county and school levies. Enrollment projections for the Tri-District, as well as those for grade school children in Sea Bright, will also be included in the report. “There are still a lot of things that need to be discussed before a transition is possible, because we need to make sure everyone is comfortable and no student’s education is disrupted in any district. But if it happens, we could end up paying half of what we’re paying now,” Rooney said of Sea Bright’s current school tax levy. The current funding formula used to calculate the tax burden of a municipality participating in a regional school district was institutedin 1975, and requires that taxlevies be allocated based onproperty values, rather thanpopulation or the number ofborough students attendingthe school. In a statement to The Two River Times, Tri-District Superintendent Susan Compton said that none of the involved school boards have been updated about the results of the study, and declined further comment concerning either adjusted enrollment predictions or the impact Sea Bright students would have on class sizes. Long noted that Sea Bright students represent about 3 percent of the Shore Regional student body, but Sea Bright taxpayers will pay 19.6 percent of the school’s budget. “We’re exploring lots of possibilities for future shared services, which could include something as small as municipal court services, or as large as trying to change school districts,” she said. Shore Regional High School Superintendent Thomas Farrell and Oceanport Public Schools Superintendent Anne R. Facendo could not be reached for comment. At the most recent meeting of the Atlantic Highlands borough council, the governing body appointed Vito A. Gagliardi and Kerri A. Wright of the Morristown law firm Porzio, Bromberg & Newman P.C. as special education counsel. The attorneys will will be compensated with funds from the borough’s $20,000 commitment to the study. In March 2017, Sea Bright petitioned the state to force Shore Regional’s Board of Education to agree to a referendum vote for more equal distribution of the school tax burden. Previous petitions made directly to the board of education were denied. Should the feasibility study clear a path for a transfer, it could leave large monetary holes in Shore Regional and Oceanport school budgets.