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Wednesday, April 24, 2024

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West Cape May Derails Effort to Dissolve Regional

By Jack Fichter

Without the support of West Cape May’s school board and borough commission, the drive for a voter referendum may be dead in the water. Last month, West Cape May Mayor Pamela Kaithern said she wanted a unified decision and borough commission would concur with the vote of the school board.
In order to proceed with a request for a voter referendum, Cape May needed endorsement from West Cape May Borough Commission and the boards of both West Cape May and Cape May elementary schools.
Cape May asked the West Cape May school board to pass a resolution to request the county Superintendent of Schools investigate holding a voter referendum to dissolve the Lower Cape May Regional School District.
West Cape May School Board member Thomas Belasco recused himself from the vote because he is a teacher at the regional school. He questioned the $2.9 million in savings to Cape May taxpayers touted by the city and the Taxpayers Association of Cape May if Cape May and West Cape May became sending districts.
Belasco questioned if Lower Township taxpayers would make up the shortfall to the regional school.
“That $2.9 million comes from somewhere,” he said.
Belasco said he feared programs such as sports would be cut at the regional school if the district were dissolved.
“Why would Lower want its taxes to go up?” he asked.
School Board President Irene Hober said she was concerned West Cape May would have little or no voice on a Lower Township School Board if it became a K-12 district after dissolution of the regional school She said the borough currently sends only nine students to the regional school. West Cape May and Cape May each has one representative on the nine-member regional school board.
Belasco questioned what he called “fuzzy math” on the actual cost Cape May pays to send students to regional. He said he believed Lower Township taxpayers paid more taxes for the same priced house than Cape May residents.
Board member Jan Conwell asked what would happen if the regional school were dissolved and a new K-12 Lower Township school district refused to educate West Cape May children. She asked if students would be bused to Wildwood or Ocean City.
Kaithern, who attended the meeting as an audience member, said not one resident of West Cape May had approached her about dissolving the regional school.
Belasco agreed the funding formula was unfair to Cape May but said the “fight to be fought” was with how the state funds education.
Kaithern said 78 percent of the tax money collected by the borough goes to West Cape May Elementary, the regional school and the county.
“I don’t know if a referendum is the answer,” she said.
Kaithern suggested Cape May, West Cape May and Lower Township sit down and “come up with something that will help all of us,” perhaps petitioning the state Department of Education.
Kaithern, Hober, and Belasco acknowledged Lower Township voters by the shear number of residents would defeat a voter referendum. Lower Township has 14,280 has registered voters while Cape May has 2,146 voters and West Cape May, 767.
“Are we good neighbors or realistic neighbors?” asked Kaithern, concerning its loyalty to Cape May.
Conwell said she could not imagine Cape May giving up the fight, even if a referendum failed after spending as much as $70,000 on legal fees. She said the West Cape May Board of Education had no money to spare in its budget for legal expenses, if asked to help Cape May.
Kaithern questioned if West Cape May did not contribute any money to dissolving the regional school, could that be questioned in court.
Hober said the school board would send a letter of its decision to the Cape May council.
Contact Fichter at jfichter@cmcherald.com

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