2007-02-15 / Schools
Boro grapples with issue of educating military kids
School district says agreement was for Navy dependents only
BY LINDA DeNICOLA
Whether or not the Tinton Falls School District is obligated to educate all children living at Naval Weapons Station Earle in Colts Neck, is expected to be an issue with ramifications for taxpayers in the borough school district.
Board of Education President Peter Karavites explained this week that 18 years ago, Colts Neck sued the U.S. Navy because the township no longer wanted to educate the children of Navy personnel in its school district.
Tinton Falls agreed to take the students in return for impact aid, which, according to Karavites, was a couple of million dollars.
"Over the years, the Tinton Falls School District has happily educated Navy children," Karavites said, but now the district is being told that the schools have to educate non-Navy children.
The issue, for now, involves 24 non-Navy children - 23 children of U.S. Army personnel and one child of U.S. Air Force personnel - living at Earle who have been affected by a resolution passed by the Board of Education on Dec. 18 that prohibits them from registering for school next fall.
On average, the school district gets $2,000 for each of 103 military (U.S. Navy dependents) children, but it costs between $9,000 and $10,000 to educate a student in Tinton Falls, said Tamar Sydney-Gens, Tinton Falls Board of Education administrator.
According to the Tinton Falls School District Board of Education (TFSBOE), the government does not pay a fair-share cost of educating military children.
In a letter to the editor of a local daily newspaper, the TFSBOE said they have repeatedly reached out to state and federal legislative representatives, asking for increased funding, but until they actually said they would not register non-Navy children, they were not taken seriously.
"In fact, federal and state funding has been reduced, not increased, over the last 10 years. The federal government has consistently let down our military families, while the taxpayers of the Tinton Falls and Shrewsbury communities have had to step up and compensate for the inequities and shortfalls created by the state and federal governments," the letter states.
Although Tinton Falls School District officials say a meeting on Thursday with various officials went well, nothing definitive came out of it and more meetings will have to be scheduled.
According to Sydney-Gens, the Feb. 8 meeting was attended by herself as well as two Tinton Falls board members, the board attorney and the superintendent of schools.
Since the military installation is actually in Colts Neck, that school district was represented by one school board member, the superintendent and business administrator, the board attorney and special council.
In addition, the Monmouth County Superintendent of Schools, Eugenia Lawson, the Earle commander and a Department of Navy attorney were present.
Sydney-Gens said, "We had a very productive meeting. At this point, we are not in a position to discuss the particulars of the meeting, but we are moving forward in our discussions."
Karavites said they are still in good-faith negotiations with the military and plan to meet again tomorrow.
"We're hoping that all sides will come to an agreement that helps all of the children and the taxpayers in our district," he said.
The issue was driven by a resolution passed by the Tinton Falls school board Dec. 18 whereby the district decided that it is not obligated to educate the non-Navy dependent children living at Earle.
The resolution states that the education of non-Navy dependent children who will remain at NWS Earle for several more years, as well as additional non-Navy dependent children who will reside at NWS Earle in the future, was never contemplated in the 1988 agreement and is an unfair tax burden to the taxpayers of the Borough of Tinton Falls and the Township of Shrewsbury.
Seven of the nine school board members voted for the motion and two abstained.
The resolution prevents the two dozen children from being able to return to the school district next September.
Lawson ruled against the measure, saying that state law governs the contractual relationship between the school district and the Navy base.
Last week, a letter was sent out to parents in the Tinton Falls School District, which includes Shrewsbury Township, explaining why the Board of Education took this action.
It states that the actions are driven solely for the purpose of holding the federal government accountable to their contractual agreements and protecting local property taxes.
The letter states that recent realignments of military personnel has resulted in NWS Earle housing being used by other branches of the military and it could potentially be offered for civilian use.
It reads: "In 1988, the Department of the Navy and Tinton Falls Board of Education entered into an agreement for the children of Navy-attached parents to attend the Tinton Falls Schools, instead of attending the schools in which the base is located [Colts Neck.]"