New Jersey education officials have handed Seaside Park residents a rare victory in the battle over their relationship with two mainland school districts, deciding that borough students can attend elementary school in Lavallette rather than Toms River.
Education Commissioner David Hespe issued a decision allowing Seaside Park to establish a sending-receiving relationship with Lavallette which would mirror the current agreement with the Toms River Regional school district. That means Seaside Park parents will be allowed to choose whether their children attend grades kindergarten through sixth at Lavallette Elementary School or split their K-6 years at Washington Street Elementary School and Toms River Intermediate School East, both across Barnegat Bay in Toms River. After students complete the sixth grade, they move on to Central Regional Middle School in Bayville, an arguably larger bone of contention for Seaside Park parents that Hespe’s decision did not address.
Lavallette educates its own students from grades kindergarten through eighth at its elementary school.
Seaside Park dissolved its operating elementary school district in 2009 and established a sending-receiving relationship with Toms River Regional, but had been hoping to ultimately keep its students on the island. The decision allowing the district’s 59 students to attend school in Lavallette is separate from Seaside Park’s quest to sever its ties with the Central Regional school district, where borough students will still attend middle school and high school.
Seaside Park residents have long argued that the Central Regional district is located too far from the borough, and that the relationship carries excessive costs for taxpayers. Since Seaside Park real estate assessments often dwarf those on the central Ocean County mainland, competing on the tax scale means residents pay over $100,000 per student to attend school in the district. Though they have faced legal barriers along the way, the parents are hoping to join the higher-value Point Pleasant Beach school district, which is currently where Lavallette students attend high school.
The Seaside Park parents were represented in the matter before Hespe by noted education policy attorney Vito A. Gagliardi, Jr. Toms River Regional board attorney Stephen Leone represented that district in the matter, though Toms River did not oppose the request.
Hespe found that establishing the new sending-receiving relationship “would not have a substantial negative educational, financial or racial impact on any of the districts involved.”
The establishment of the relationship was, however, formally opposed by Central Regional Superintendent Triantafillos Parlapanides, former Seaside Heights Mayor William Akers and Kevin O’Shea, the Central Regional district’s business administrator. Lavallette Mayor Walter LaCicero submitted a letter to Hespe formally supporting the Seaside Park parents.