Lenape districts spat over funding formula

| 28 Sep 2011 | 02:16

    STANHOPE-Two out of the three sending districts that make up Lenape Valley Regional want to change school funding Netcong Borough officials feel they are paying more than their fair share when it comes to the funding of Lenape Valley Regional High School. Although only 18.7 percent of the students who attend the high school are from Netcong, the municipality currently pays 22.3 percent of the school's budget. Byram Township and the Borough of Stanhope are the other two school systems that make up the regional district. Byram, whose students make up 56.5 percent of the student body, pays 57 percent of the district's costs. Stanhope students account for 24.8 of the student population, but the municipality pays 20.7 percent of the budget. The current funding allocation formula takes into account a variety of factors including home values and elementary school enrollment. Netcong officials wantto change what they see as a disparity in the way each municipality is charged. The Netcong council recently suggested to its counterparts in Byram and Stanhope that the fairest way to allocate the school's funding is for each municipality to pay a share equal to its school enrollment. During a meeting on Monday, Oct. 4, township manager Gregory Poff informed the Byram council of Netcong's request. To change the funding allocation formula, the measure would need to be put to a referendum, which would cost a total of $10,000 to be split between the three municipalities. Members of the Byram council explained that under the current formula, any of the three towns could end up paying either higher or lower costs than their neighbors at one time or another due to the varying factors involved. Despite their reservations, Byram council officials tentatively agreed to pay their share of the referendum. However, they expressed skepticism their counterparts in Stanhope would agree and their suspicions proved right. Stanhope Councilman and Chairman of the Town Finance Committee James Benson said in a telephone interview last week that his council had no intentions of agreeing with the proposal. "There's no real incentive for us right now to change the formula," said Benson. "What may appear fair one year may seem disproportionate the next year." Although he said that Netcong's idea sounds fair on the surface, Benson argued that because the high school is located in Stanhope, the borough bears the brunt of additional costs that are not included in the school budget. In addition to water, sewer, police, and fire services, Benson said, the school serves as a lost ratable for Stanhope taxpayers. Benson said he believes the current system is fair and that he would support Netcong's request if Stanhope was reimbursed for the services it provides to the school district. According to state law, the funding formula may only be changed if all participating municipalities agree. "Why would we change and make it so that we would always pay more than everyone else," said Benson. "It comes down to what's equitable."