Gail Coleman — who never minced words during her time on the Central Regional Board of Education — was briefly speechless at recent board meeting.
“For the first time I’m at a loss for words,” Coleman said, after she was presented with a plaque and bouquet of flowers as a send-off for her last board meeting on April 14. Coleman did not seek re-election.
But Coleman, who holds the the Seaside Park seat on the regional board until the April 27 election, didn't hold back for long.
She lashed out at the Toms River school district for taking in at no cost. Coleman had previously prepared a parting statement about the situation.
" … Board of education officials in Seaside Park have been making agreements with the Toms River School board to get them to accept grades 7-12 to attend Toms River for free," Coleman said in the statement. "This has created another lawsuit. Their plan is genius. They want all their students to go to Toms River, and would no longer pay toward Central Regional’s school budget, currently $4 million per year. As a Seaside Park taxpayer, I would save close to $2,000 per year in school taxes.”
“Who is stupid enough to believe that would actually happen?" Coleman said after the meeting. "There will be just lawsuit on top of lawsuit. It’s causing chaos. On paper it works out, but somebody else is going to have to pick up the … tab.”
The Berkeley Township Council passed a resolution at the Feb. 22 meeting authorizing special counsel to file an action before the New Jersey state Commissioner of Education against the Toms River Regional Board of Education, former Toms River Regional Superintendent Michael J. Ritacco, and the other constituent municipalities and boards of education of the Central Regional School District.
The Township Council is seeking an order from the DOE commissioner state to include Seaside Park students in grades 7 through 12 -- who currently attend schools in the Toms River school district --- in the count of students in the Application for State School Aid [ASSA] . The AASA is submitted each school year by the Central Regional School District to the state Department of Education.
Not including the nine students in Central's ASSA count would increase Central Regional's tax levy on the taxpayers of the four other sending towns by $421,00 beginning on July 1, Berkeley Township Council President Karen Davis has said.
“As a Seaside Park taxpayer, I don’t want to be sucked into the vortex that is the Toms River school system, without representation," Coleman said. "Both my son and daughter graduated from Central Regional and have gone on to flourish in their college careers.”
Central Regional Superintendent of Schools Triantafillos "Tom" Parlapanides agreed.
“If you want a district, then you should apply for choice and do it legally,” he said.
Board Business Administrator Kevin O’Shea commended Coleman for her work on the board.
“She proved that you can come to Central and make a positive change and not file a lawsuit to do so … that one representative can make a very big difference,” he said.
Seaside Park has been a sending district of the Central Regional school district since Central Regional was formed back in 1954. Prior to that, Seaside Park students went to Toms River schools. But the Toms River district grew so quickly, there was no longer any room for Seaside Park students. So they ended up going to Central Regional.
Until 1976, Seaside Park paid Central Regional through the "turnstile" method, Frank Campbell, special counsel for the Township Council, has said.
But things changed in 1976, after the state Legislature changed the tuition payment method for regional school districts from head counts to a formula based on an individual town's property values. The tuition payment change was gradually phased in over a five-year period, Campbell has said.
Seaside Park later filed suit against Central Regional in 2007, claiming that the tuition method was unconstitutional. But a judge later ruled against Seaside Park and dismissed the case. Thirteen individual Seaside Park residents appealed the ruling in October 2010. The matter is still pending.