Voters to decide Lenape Valley school funding in January

| 28 Sep 2011 | 02:18

    BYRAM-Their children attend the same high school, learn the same math, and work with the same numbers. Yet, the residents of Byram, Stanhope, and Netcong can't solve their common problem. How, they ask, should each municipality provide for the costs of sending their children to Lenape Valley Regional High School? The board of education believes the answer is simple; one that will be found in a special election, Jan. 25, when voters determine if the manner in which property taxes are apportioned should be modified to a formula based solely upon the number of pupils enrolled from each municipality. The referendum, if passed by all three municipalities, would phase in a new funding system over a two-year period. "Fair share is fair," said Byram Mayor Eskil "Skip" Danielson. "We're not opposed to paying our fair share. If cost per pupil is the fairest way to do it and represents our fair share, that's fine." For the past 10 years, Lenape Valley has apportioned its tax levies based on a formula that "equalized" the valuation of each municipality by taking into account the economic factors of its residents and the actual enrollment from each sending district. Under this formula in 2004-2005, Netcong will contribute 22.3 percent of the tax levy to operate the school district, compared to 20.7 from Stanhope and 57 from Byram. But, Netcong is quick to note that the municipality only enrolls 18.7 percent of the students at Lenape Valley, as opposed to 24.8 from Stanhope, and 56.5 from Byram. "There's no easy answer to the question," said Robert Klinck, assistant superintendent for business. "No matter how the referendum turns out, one of the three towns is not going to be happy with the results. It puts our board of education in a difficult position because we want to do what's best for all three municipalities. We want them all to be happy." However, finding a more level and common ground is not easy. "When you have a regional high school, it makes it difficult to proportion taxes," said Klinck. "The last couple of years, Netcong paid more than the amount of students it's sent. It's a year-to-year-figure, but some years, Netcong's had a real problem with its percentage share." Netcong officials believe the current method is inequitable. The disparity among the municipalities will grow even wider, officials said. The borough argues that it is fully developed demographically, and its ratable base, which is largely residential, is the smallest of the three district municipalities. "There are a lot of older people in Netcong fitting the bill year after year," said Timothy Grogan, a board member who represents the Borough of Netcong. "It's a very complicated formula. Netcong is having a tough time with it. Netcong's population isn't going to grow anymore. There's no place to build." Klinck says Netcong is at a greater disadvantage because its valuation is computed using numbers that reflect Morris County's higher per capita income. In the 2004-2005 proposed district budget, which was defeated by the voters, the tax increase for the average Netcong homeowner was $140.55 or 12. 1 percent, Netcong officials said. In contrast, they say, the average tax increase for Stanhope was $16.76 or 1.6 percent and $26.77 or 2.3 percent for Byram. The district must think collectively and do what is best for the three communities, said Dolores Dalesandro, a Netcong official, if the voters are ever to pass a Lenape Valley Regional High School budget. Stanhope officials are happy with the current formula. They believe the proposed per pupil funding system fails to consider the costs to the borough as host for the high school in both terms of rateables lost and municipal services provided to the district including sewers, water and special police protection.