CAPE MAY — Educating elementary school students from three towns at Cape May Elementary School would save more than $700,000 per year and reduce the tax rate in two of those towns.
That is the finding of a study presented to the public Monday night at the Cape May Elementary School. The study, done by Richard Perniciaro of Atlantic Cape Community College, said a conservative estimate of the savings is $709,491.
Perniciaro said the school budget from Cape May, West Cape May and Cape May Point was $4,281,535 in 2009 but it would have been $3,572,044 if West Cape May Elementary School closed and those students came to Cape May on a tuition basis. Cape May Point already sends its students — only three of them this year — to Cape May but it was still part of the study.
Perniciaro said the savings would mainly come from reducing staff and eliminating a building. The tax rate would decline in West Cape May and Cape May but increase slightly in Cape May Point.
The school boards in the three towns voted to accept the study, which will now be discussed in more detail in the three towns.
“We’re looking at everything with an open mind,” West Cape May Board Member Lynn Bowlby said.
Even if the three school boards support the plan, the state Department of Education would make the final decision.
There are still plenty of questions. Bowlby said teachers in West Cape May don’t get the benefits that Cape May teachers receive. Perniciaro, however, said Cape May would have to add only two teachers. West Cape May has fewer than 40 students from the borough, though it does take some tuition students from other towns.
Bowlby said the school has always been small dating to the borough’s early days as a rural farming community. She said it was “an anomaly” in the 1990s when the school had over 100 students.
“Our school is 150 years old and we always averaged about 50 students, since 1865. We’ve educated eight generations of West Cape May farming families. At 35 kids we’re a little lower than we’d like to be,” Bowlby said.
An outstanding 1997 bond issue for a school addition is another issue. It has $550,000 left with annual payments of $75,000.
“West Cape May could pay $75,000 a year, and the cost per student will still be substantially less than what you’re currently paying,” Perniciaro said.
The cost to educate a West Cape May student is $29,740, compared to $16,468 in Cape May.
The study gave demographic figures showing the population of all three towns is declining and aging, meaning fewer school children. Projections indicate this trend will continue.
“You’re not going to have a population boom. You’re certainly not going to have a population boom of young families anytime soon,” said Perniciaro.
Tax rate projections show savings for Cape May and West Cape May but the numbers were not big to begin with, Perniciaro noted. Cape May would see its rate drop from 6.7 cents per $100 of assessed valuation to 5.6 cents. A $100,000 home would see the tax bill go from $67 to $56.
In West Cape May, the rate would drop from 16.5 cents to 11.1 cents. For a $100,000 home, the bill would drop from $165 to $111. Bowlby, however, cautioned that savings of 5.4 cents per $100 of assessed value could be as low as 3 cents if the bond issue of $75,000 a year is factored in.
Cape May Point would see an increase from .96 cents, $9.60 for the owner of a $100,000 home, to 2.2 cents or $22 for that homeowner.
Cape May has about 170 students now and Perniciaro said even with the West Cape May students it would be well under its capacity of 300 students.
“The economic advantage is one less building and a smaller overall staff,” he said.
Upon questioning by a West Cape May teacher, Perniciaro acknowledged “there would be some people who would lose their job.” Cape May would take only two new teachers.
Cape May school board Member Edward Connolly urged the boards to concentrate on the education of the students instead of the finances.
“Any decision we make must be based on the best interests of the children. I don’t think the issue is how much people will save,” Connolly said.
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