District: New law needed on schooling Earle students

Board of Education enlists community to change state law

BY CARA SCHULTZ Correspondent

TINTON FALLS – More than 300 people showed up at a meeting at Mahala F. Atchison Elementary School Monday at which the Tinton Falls Board of Education (BOE) reached out to community members for support in its effort to have new legislation passed that would clarify the district’s obligation to educate children living at a nearby naval base.

The board asked residents to contact legislators via e-mail and phone to lobby for a change in the wording of state law that would bring it in line with the borough’s existing agreement with the U.S. Navy.

“We are very proud of our schools and we are very proud to educate these Navy children,” BOE president Peter Karavites stressed at the meeting.

The borough currently educates children who live at Naval Weapons Station Earle (NWS) under legislation written in 1988 concerning military families and children who live on the base. The law specified that those children would be educated in the Tinton Falls School District even though they live within the boundaries of Colts Neck Township.

The wording of that legislation has become an issue for the school district since the language does not specify that the children are from military families, which is what Tinton Falls agreed to 19 years ago, according to board members. The issue has taken on an immediacy now that a proposal has been floated to open housing at Earle to civilians.

“We have been trying to correct the language in the original legislation,” board Secretary Tamar Sydney-Gens told those who crowded into the school auditorium for the meeting.

“We found out in March of this year that they [the U.S. Navy] were planning to open up 300 units on federal property to civilians, to [the] public, not to people that work for the Navy, not for people that have anything to do with the military,” Karavites added.

Without a change in the language of the original legislation, the children living in the 300 units would have to be educated in Tinton Falls, even though they are from civilian, not military, families, Karavites said during his presentation.

Because the 300 units would be open to civilians, the school district would not receive any impact aid from the federal government to help educate these children. The funds needed to educate the children would have to come from Tinton Falls taxpayers.

“If we get this massive influx of civilian students, it would devastate our school economy … that means that with hundreds of added students, we’d face draconian cutting measures of all programs not required by state law, like music, art, libraries, even kindergarten,” Tinton Falls Councilman Brendan Tobin wrote in an e-mail.

He continued, “Even with those cuts, a home valued at just $200,000 in Tinton Falls would see hundreds of dollars in added property taxes while a home valued at $600,000 would see three times the increase and so on.”

During the meeting, Karavites displayed official Tinton Falls documents, in- cluding the contract between the Navy and Tinton Falls.

“We only agreed to educate Navy personnel,” Karavites said.

The BOE is trying to get new legislation passed during the current lame duck legislative session. In January the state Legislature will include newly elected representatives, and the BOE is concerned that the legislation will not get passed and the process will have to start all over again.

“We do not want to educate civilians living in Colts Neck. We do not want to educate children living on housing on Colts Neck property; Colts Neck can tax the structures there, we can’t. We will get no aid whatsoever other than state aid, and everyone gets state aid,” Karavites said.

The BOE supports Republican Assemblywoman Jennifer Beck’s stance on the issue, which is not to have any housing built at NWS Earle.

“This is a critical issue facing Tinton Falls; it’s also a critical issue for this entire county,” said Beck, who attended the meeting.

She continued, “The U.S. Navy needs to understand that our school districts cannot accept 300 new children – Tinton Falls cannot handle it, Colts Neck cannot handle it, none of our school districts in Monmouth County can take 300 new children. It will devastate us.”

Karavites said the need for the new legislation remains the No. 1 priority of the BOE.

“We agree 100 percent with Ms. Beck’s [position]. We agree that no housing should go up there; we agree that it is probably not safe to put civilians so close to ammunition. We do not agree that if it doesn’t work, the children come to Tinton Falls,” Karavites said

After the presentation, residents expressed their concerns and weighed in on the issue. Several computers were available to community members to sign electronic petitions.

Many residents supported the Board of Education’s position on changing the legislation.

One resident said, “I don’t feel that we are pitting neighbor against neighbor. We’re just protecting our schools, our students, our town.”