CAPE MAY -- Local residents who bear the financial brunt of funding the regional school district, at least in proportion to the low number of students the city sends, are being urged to attend a City Council meeting today at 1 p.m. to hear about potential solutions.
Deputy Mayor Jack Wichterman, who has spearheaded a move to seek relief from a state funding formula that results in city taxpayers funding what he argues is a disproportionate share at the Lower Cape May Regional School District, has invited attorney Vito Gagliardi to speak at the meeting.
“He’s the most reliable attorney there is when attempting to correct a problem with regional school funding. It would start with a feasibility study and he will give us a proposal on what that feasibility study will be,” Wichterman said.
The grade 7-12 district also includes West Cape May and Lower Township, where the junior high and high school are located, but Wichterman said Cape May pays the highest share based on student enrollment.
“We spend over $6.6 million a year for 80 students and the vast majority are Coast Guard kids so they’re not paying any taxes to the city of Cape May. This comes out to $82,500 per student,” Wichterman said.
The city hired Gagliardi in 2004 when the per-pupil cost for Cape May was just $38,000. The effort stalled partly because residents in Lower Township, which paid the lowest per-pupil cost then, at less than $5,000 per student, fought it. West Cape May officials declined to take a stance then but Wichterman said borough officials have been invited to today’s meeting.
The meeting could result in a council vote to hire Gagliardi, at a cost of $48,000, to try and get some relief. The state funding formula is based partly on property values, and this often results in towns along the shore in regional districts paying more than in mainland areas where property values are lower. Other New Jersey shore towns have fought the disparity before, including some towns on Long Beach Island that are part of the Southern Regional School District.
Cape May has even tried this route before. Gagliardi was hired in 2004 by the city and paid $65,000 over several years.
The school district’s budget is about $30 million per year and the majority of the 1,550 students live in Lower Township, which is funding $11.2 million of the budget this year. West Cape May is funding $1.4 million. The district also gets revenue from such sources as state and federal aid.
Wichterman has traveled to Trenton to talk with officials at the state Department of Education. He has also talked to mayors of other shore towns.
The meeting begins at 1 p.m. at City Hall, 643 Washington St.