By Peter Elacqua
COLTS NECK – A bill that has been introduced in the state Legislature is causing concern among members of the Colts Neck K-8 School District Board of Education and the Colts Neck Township Committee.
The bill, A-4453, was introduced in December by Assembly members Eric Houghtaling and Joann Downey (both D-Monmouth). The legislative district served by Houghtaling and Downey includes Colts Neck and Tinton Falls.
If the bill makes its way through the legislative process and is signed into law, it would require pupils who reside on certain federal property to enroll in their resident school district in accordance with a schedule determined by the executive county superintendent of schools.
Specifically, the legislation put forth by Houghtaling and Downey would require elementary school children and middle school children who live on Naval Weapons Station Earle, which is in Colts Neck, to attend Colts Neck’s elementary and middle schools.
For many years, children who live on the naval base have attended Tinton Falls public schools, even though they do not reside in Tinton Falls.
In recent years, Tinton Falls school district administrators have sought action that would require children who live on the naval base in Colts Neck to attend public school in Colts Neck.
Children of high school age who live on Earle attend Colts Neck High School in the Freehold Regional High School District.
The bill introduced by Houghtaling and Downey states that beginning with the 2017-18 school year, there will be a four-year transition period to allow for students currently enrolled in schools to be relocated/enrolled to the school district of residence.
The bill contains a goal completion date for all students to be enrolled in the district of residence by July 1, 2020 and also permits students to remain in their current district of enrollment beyond the effective date for purposes of graduation.
Those provisions would only take effect if the bill becomes law.
In a joint press release, the Colts Neck Township Committee and Board of Education members said they are “very concerned about a proposed bill regarding the issue of the education of children residing on federal land, in this case, Naval Weapons Station Earle.
“This bill would allow the county superintendent to shift the obligation to educate the children (military and private) residing at Earle from Tinton Falls to Colts Neck. This issue revolves around one thing – money.
“The Tinton Falls Board of Education made a deal in the 1980s whereby, in exchange for millions of dollars to build school infrastructure, that town agreed it would educate all children residing at Earle going forward. For all these years, Tinton Falls has also received a per pupil subsidy from the Navy to support the education of these children.
“A problem began when the Navy reduced the subsidy to a lesser amount, causing Tinton Falls to have to educate the children more largely at its own expense. No town should have to shoulder that burden, particularly in Monmouth County towns such as ours where taxpayers essentially foot the educational bill.
“The correct solution is not to shift the financial burden from one municipality to another, particularly in the case where one town, Tinton Falls, has been compensated for its commitment.
“The Navy, and/or the federal government, should facilitate the appropriate funding of the education of these children. Shifting the burden is no solution,” Colts Neck officials said in the statement.
Committeeman Russell Macnow added that, “the Township Committee is deeply disappointed that our elected officials have chosen to make this issue into a political one. There is no reason for them to pick one township in their district over another. The proper solution is for our elected officials to seek the proper funding regardless of the district the children are going to attend. The Township Committee fully supports the Colts Neck Board of Education.”