TRENTON – The Superior Court appellate division has turned aside an attempt to dissolve a regional N.J. school district in Ocean County.
The case decided Monday involves the Seaside Park, Seaside Heights and Island Heights school districts, which were seeking either permission to withdraw from or dissolution of the Central Regional School District.
“This lawsuit is an attempt to achieve through the courts a result that plaintiffs could not achieve pursuant to relevant legislation or through the Department of Education,” the court stated in its decision.
The Legislature mandated that a voter referendum could be held on such questions, and the referendum on this issue failed, the court said.
The court points out that the state in 1931 authorized regionalized school districts, and it has since been upheld through court rulings and legislative amendments.
At issue is the disproportionate sharing of costs and the tax burdens. Attempts by Seaside Park and Heights to withdraw date back to the mid 1970s, when Lacey Township was allowed to withdraw but the others were not. Lacey’s bid was approved by voter referendum.
A bid by Seaside Park to hold a vote on dissolution of the regional district was approved in 2007, but although a majority of the municipalities favored dissolution, a majority of the overall voters did not, the court reported.
The referendum passed in Seaside Park, Seaside Heights, and Island Heights, but was defeated in Berkeley Township and Ocean Gate.
Following that result, Seaside Park went to court seeking permission to withdraw from the regional district.
Island Heights and Seaside Heights also went to court and sought dissolution of Central Regional.
But the court ruled today that it would not grant the wishes of the districts, either to dissolve the regional district or allow one municipality to withdraw.
“Under the circumstances of this case, the court has no power to override the Legislature’s scheme for funding regional school districts, or to provide plaintiffs with an alternative to the legislatively created means for withdrawing from or dissolving Central Regional, or altering the funding mechanism of Central Regional.”
“Regional school districts are created solely through the procedures established by the Legislature, and not through any contractual agreement between municipalities,” the court said.