By mary dempsey
By mary dempsey
County school districts have been put on notice that the Monmouth County Vocational School District may impose a new tuition hike that may raise individual district tax rates.
Brian D. McAndrew, superintendent of schools for the county vocational district, sent a letter Feb. 20 to every county school district that included the announcement of an additional tuition charge of $1,500 for each of the 850-950 shared-time, or part-time, county students in regular vocational programs.
"The Board of Education has not to date collected the tuition that theoretically could have been generated by these students," according to the letter.
"We haven’t, in the past, charged shared-time students," McAndrew said. "We are working with local school districts, looking to see what can be done. Nothing is finalized yet."
Shared-time career center special needs students are not included in the tuition hike, McAndrew said.
The notification of the new tuition hike shocked many county schools superintendents.
Despite having a good working relationship with the county’s vocational school district, James Wasser, superintendent of Freehold Regional High School District, said the tuition increase is not fair to the public school districts.
"I think it’s ridiculous," Wasser said. "I called Dr. Brian McAndrew to express our concern."
The Freehold Regional District has 325 shared-time students that attend the vocational district.
The tuition hike would mean the school district would have to come up with $487,500 to cover the additional costs.
Because the district did not receive McAndrew’s Feb. 20 notification letter until just before the district introduced its 2003-04 budget, the $487,500 was not included in the budget.
"We did not have it in our budget. To hit us after our initial budget went to our Board of Education is absurd," Wasser said. "Give me a break here. This is like suicide."
The tuition hike would mean Wasser would have to cut every district capital-improvement project scheduled for next year, except for the district’s roofing projects, he said.
"I wrote letters to all of the [Monmouth County Board of] Freeholders expressing dissatisfaction," Wasser said. "It’s not fair for them to push their financial burden onto the public schools."
If the tuition increase is adopted by the vocational school district, Wasser said his school district may go in another direction.
"We may reconsider our position regarding the vocational schools and may plan to do some (vocational) programming ourselves," he said.
Providing his students in-district vocational education may save Freehold Regional more money than the proposed tuition.
"We could save on transportation costs to transport the students to the vocational schools," Wasser said.
The Freehold Regional High School Board of Education may consider contesting the tuition increase in court, Wasser said.
"The board may want to litigate its [the increased tuition’s] legality," he said.
Renae LaPrete, Hazlet superintendent of schools, said McAndrew’s letter was received in her school district March 3, the day the Board of Education introduced its 2003-04 school budget.
"We got it in the 11th hour," she said.
The financial impact of the tuition increase on Hazlet is an additional $78,000 needed for next year’s budget.
In order to cover the costs of the additional tuition, LaPrete said she may have to cut the planned Raritan High School science laboratory renovations.
Middletown Township Superintendent of Schools David Witmer said his district did not receive McAndrew’s letter until March 3, the same day of the school budget introduction.
The introduced tentative budget does not include the additional money needed for the tuition hike.
The additional tuition would cost the district $150,000 to pay for the district’s 100 part-time vocational students, Witmer said.
School officials are optimistic that a compromise will be reached with the vocational school district, Witmer said.
"We’ve been meeting with them and will be talking to them several times this week," he said. "If it does happen, we’ll have to see about increasing taxes, which we don’t want to do," Witmer said.
The tuition increase would mean a $51,000 increase to the Keyport school district’s budget.
"It was a little bit of a surprise when we got the increase. About 34 of the 54 vocational students we have are shared-time students," said John Dumford, Keyport superintendent of schools. "We’d already started on our budget when we got the letter. When we got it, we started making adjustments in our budget."
Keyport received McAndrew’s letter in time to include the rate increases in its tentative budget.
Matawan-Aberdeen Regional School District Superintendent of Schools Bruce Quinn said he plans to notify McAndrew in writing regarding the problems the tuition increase would cause the district and the problem caused by the late notification.
"Our financial department had already gone through a number of budget hearings," he said. "We had already put our budget together."
Unlike other counties in the state which Quinn said pay for all vocational program costs, Monmouth County puts the burden of paying back on the school districts.
"Why isn’t the county picking up their share?" he said. "In other counties, the county pays the costs. The system is unfair."
McAndrew said the vocational school district’s sources for revenue are the county tax levy, state aid and tuition.
McAndrew blames the situation on the fact that state aid has not increased over the past two years.
"Public education cannot be flat-funded for two years in a row without ramifications," he said.
A decision regarding the tuition will be made by April 3, he said.
Louis Paparozzi, Monmouth County administrator, said the freeholders were only notified of the new tuition costs to county school districts last week.
"We sent the notice to the freeholders to look into and then meet with the vocational district," Paparozzi said. "This did come as a bit of a surprise."
County officials plan to meet with officials from the vocational school district this week to reach a compromise.
"We’re hoping to see what we can do," Paparozzi said. "It is under review, and we have to look at what we can provide for them."
Staff writers Maura Dowgin and Josh Davidson also contributed to this story