Change won't be easy, says Gagliardi, who litigated cases that led to the dissolution of two regional school districts in New Jersey in the last decade. State law requires that all towns in a regional school district approve funding-formula changes in a referendum. So for the ballot questions to succeed, towns paying less per pupil than homeowners in towns with more valuable real estate will have to vote, in effect, to raise their own taxes.
"It's not realistic, and no such referendum has ever passed in New Jersey," Gagliardi said.
On Long Beach Island, Gagliardi is advising Long Beach Township and Beach Haven on how to withdraw from the Southern Regional School District. The six towns on Long Beach Island and Stafford Township, an inland Ocean County town, finance Southern Regional. Breaking away from a regional school district requires a district-wide majority yes vote but not the individual approval of each town.
"All we want is some relief," Long Beach Township Commissioner Ralph Bayard said. "Believe me, we know it will be a long battle." According to state figures, Long Beach Township is paying what amounts to $118,000 for each student it sends to Southern Regional High School.
Surf City Mayor Leonard T. Connors Jr., a Republican who also represents Shore and inland communities in the state Senate, said he believes that the school-tax structure is inequitable but that breaking up Southern Regional would be difficult. He calls Gagliardi a "shiny suit" from out of town who will be a waste of money. Surf City is part of Long Beach Island.
Connors said that there is little sympathy for tax relief for wealthy Shore homeowners and that any ballot question to break up the district would fail. "I'm not going on some fool's errand," Connors said of his opposition to hiring Gagliardi.
Other Long Beach Island officials say Connors' two elected positions have put him in a precarious political position. If he supports changing the funding mechanism or composition of Southern Regional, he would please homeowners on Long Beach Island, which has 7,650 voters.
But he would alienate the 16,900 voters in Stafford Township who are also in his senatorial district, and who would assume more of the tax burden.
Political calculations over votes have not played into his decision, Connors said. "If people think I would do that to curry favor, they're wrong," he said.
Contact staff writer Bob Fernandez at 215-854-5897 or email@example.com.