Former Mayor Expresses Opinion On Deregionalization Of High School District

The question has been asked since the mid-1990s and maybe before that time. By way of background, the district was formed in 1958. The district was formed in 1958 and included six sending towns, Mt. Olive Township being the sixth. From 1958 till 1975, the district’s funding formula was based upon a per pupil basis. Per pupil defined is every sending town pays the same amount per student. The only variable is the number of students. If the average cost Is 10,000, then every town pays 10,000, times the number of students sent by that town. At some point, Mt. Olive broke away and formed its own district.
In 1975, the legislature changed the law to a funding formula based upon total assessed value. Definition of total assessed value of a town is the total value of all its lands and properties with improvements. Since there are five towns, the values must be equalized, which means bringing the values up to 100 percent value. This is done by the county. In 1994 after a court case, the legislature brought the funding formula back to a per pupil basis or total assessed value basis or a combination of both. The district owns and administers the two high schools (Mendham and Central). No one town owns the high schools. The five towns are sending towns to the district (two Chesters, two Mendhams and Washington Township).
New Jersey has the highest property tax on average in the entire nation. At the state level, more than 30 percent of monies collected by the state goes towards education at the local level. Morris County pays about 10 percent of the state’s total gross income. Yet our schools share of state aid is between 1percent to 2 percent. The result of this loss is that the burden has fallen on local property taxes. On our local level, well over 50 percent of our property taxes goes towards education. According to a letter to the editor from Mayor Ted Eible in the mid-1990s, the mayors and councils held meetings and seemingly were in favor of a change in the district; but nothing happened. In 1999, Washington Township considered withdrawing from the district; but never followed through. Concerning Washington Township, we must give them the respect and courtesy they are due as our neighbors. They should be notified and invited to meetings. We have not done a good enough job over the years in treating them well. When I was mayor, I spoke to Mayor Short of Washington Township and conveyed to him that if I were in his place, I would have to oppose deregionalization. What mayor in good conscience could agree to give his constituents receiving a tax increase? On the contrary, I relayed to him that if my constituents would receive a tax decrease, then I had to support deregionalization. We are friends to this day.
A district sponsored study was done in year 2002, which states taxes would go down in four towns and no harm to education. The study went on to say, the deregionaliztion was not feasible because there were more Washington Township residents than the Chesters and Mendhams combined regarding a vote. No action was taken. In year 2004, Mendham Township Mayor and Committee led the initiative to take action. Kudos to the leadership of Mendham Township at that time. I was mayor of Chester Borough at that time. Our Council representing Chester Borough residents became convinced to take action. Mendham Borough’s Mayor and Council at that time, wrote a letter to their community opposing the efforts of a study to deregionalize. Chester Township’s leadership also took no action. Back then, some in Chester wanted to build a high school in Chester. Given the cost today because of the Davis Bacon Act, the idea was a non starter. Also, the Regional School Board appeared to be supporting a 9″‘ grade school built on the Black River field in Chester Township. They own the land to the right of the driveway. Mendham Township and Chester Borough sponsored a four page letter in year 2005 to the property owners of the Chesters and Mendhams; explaining as best we could the situation. This led to Mendham Township and Chester Borough holding a non binding referendum in year 2006. Asking the residents if we should move forward to investigate deregionalization. The residents of both towns voted over whelming yes.
Chester Borough, according to our Administrator received many emails and phone calls from Chester Township residents supporting our efforts. Chester Borough and both Mendhams have hosted countless meetings over the years. A second study was commissioned in year 2015. The findings of that study stated four out of five town’s taxes would go down and no harm to the educational experience. The community has been given countless opportunities to be informed about the topic. It is difficult to accept an elected official who is not informed after more than two decades of discussing the topic. Mendham Borough Mayor Neil Henry, council and board of education is a model how to address the topic. Recently, they approved to move forward. It is my understating Mendham Township governing body and board of education is moving forward. Also, Chester Borough is seemingly moving forward. As of this date, I do not believe Chester Township has taken action. Also, Chester Board of Education has not taken action. The process can be confusing. 
Any future referendum should be binding. What can be a complicated issue and decision should be based upon two fundamental questions: 1) Is the educational experience going to be detrimentally hurt in any way? Answer, clearly two studies have said “no.”
 2.) Will property takes go down in any towns? Answer, clearly two studies have said that four out of the five towns taxes will go down. If nothing else, base your decision on those two questions and answers. There are many elements to this decision. but nothing as important as those two questions and answers. My recommendation is to deregionalize. Washington Township students will go to Central as they do today. 
Reregionalize, the two Chesters and two Mendhams will go to Mendham, as they do today. Maintain the three K through eight districts in the Chesters and Mendhams as they are today. Change the funding formula to a per pupil basis. Do not confuse this multi town effort with the board’s attempt to change the funding formula. As a veteran, I am always deeply moved by the rights we enjoy in our country. The right to free speech is on the top of the list. The downside to free speech is one who has an opinion with a lack of facts, misinformation, alternative intentions, partial truths and a worst intentional attempts to obstruct. The opposition typically opposes by saying it will never pass the county and state. Let’s give it a try!
Let’s move forward with confidence!
Former Mayor Borough of Chester Dennis Verbaro

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