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Sea Isle City pays to send its students to other districts because its former public school is closed.

By DONALD WITTKOWSKI

Sea Isle City’s Board of Education has introduced a new budget that keeps school taxes the same for the ninth consecutive year.

Although Sea Isle closed its public school in 2012 due to declining enrollment, it still must pay the expense of sending its students to Ocean City and other school districts for their education.

Tuition costs and transportation expenses for students to attend other school districts represent the bulk of the spending in the nearly $2.5 million budget for the 2020-2021 academic year, according to Jason Frost, the Board of Education secretary.

Frost said the proposed budget continues a trend of stable school taxes for the ninth straight year. The average school tax bill for Sea Isle property owners is pending budget approval by Cape May County, but is expected to be around $120 annually for a home assessed at $646,000, Frost said.

Sea Isle, like other towns, must cope with a cut in state education aid. Frost said Sea Isle’s state funding was reduced by $18,000, but the proposed budget has a big enough surplus to absorb the loss of that much aid without imposing a tax increase.

“We’re in real good financial shape. It’s easier for us to budget our costs,” he said in an interview Tuesday.

Over the years, the budget has supported a number of education and community initiatives, including mental health counseling, drug prevention, a creativity innovation project and an SAT testing reimbursement program for Sea Isle students.

The Board of Education also has partnerships with the city and the Sea Isle City Chamber of Commerce and Revitalization for initiatives that benefit local schoolchildren.

The new school budget is expected to receive county approval within the first or second week of April, Frost said. Following the county’s approval, the Board of Education will advertise the budget figures.

A public hearing and final vote on the budget are scheduled at the Board of Education’s meeting on May 5 at 7 p.m. at the former public school at 4501 Park Road.

As Sea Isle’s student population has declined over the years, so has its school budget, which hit a high of about $4.4 million while the public school was still open.

Budget spending fell when Sea Isle began sending its students in grades fifth through eighth to Ocean City in 2010, followed by third and fourth grades in 2011 and first and second grades in 2012. Then the school was closed because there were not enough students to continue operating it.

Dan Tumolo, president of the Board of Education, has explained in recent years that Sea Isle’s upscale real estate market, which is popular for summer vacation homes, is simply too expensive for most young families to afford. As a result, families with school-age children are seeking less-expensive housing in the mainland communities surrounding Sea Isle.

Sea Isle’s downward trend in its school-age population continues, falling from 83 students last year to 81 in 2020, Frost said. The current figure is less than one-fifth of the 444 school-age children who lived in Sea Isle in 2000.

Most of Sea Isle’s students go to Ocean City’s public schools. A smaller number of Sea Isle students attend the Bishop McHugh, Wildwood Catholic, Holy Spirit and St. Augustine Prep schools in Atlantic and Cape May counties.

In the meantime, city officials continue to plan the redevelopment of the former Sea Isle school into a community recreation center. The old school will be demolished and a new recreation facility will rise in its place.

Still in the preliminary stages, the project is expected to cost between $10 million and $15 million.

According to figures in Sea Isle’s five-year capital plan, about $1 million will be spent in 2020 to design the project. The capital plan proposes spending $12 million in 2021 to build the facility, although that is an early estimate.

Barring any major delays or problems, construction is expected to get underway in the second half of 2021 and would take about 18 months to complete, putting the grand opening in early 2023, City Business Administrator George Savastano said in a January interview.