By DONALD WITTKOWSKI
Sea Isle City will likely keep local school taxes stable for the 10th consecutive year despite uncertainty about the timing of the budget caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, a top school official said.
Dan Tumolo, president of the Board of Education, anticipates that the school budget will not have a tax increase, even though the formal introduction of the spending plan may be delayed by the pandemic.
“I think we’ll go another year without a tax increase. We anticipate that we’ll be all right,” he said in an interview.
However, COVID-related delays could push back the introduction of the school budget until the end of April or beginning of May, Tumolo noted. Last year, the budget was introduced in March and received final approval on May 5.
“I think we’ll get an extension to file the budget,” Tumolo said of this year’s spending plan.
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.
Tumolo said Sea Isle’s 2021-2022 school budget will be delayed until Ocean City receives more information from the New Jersey Department of Education about tuition costs. The process has been slowed down by the pandemic, he explained.
Tuition costs and transportation expenses for students to attend other school districts represent the bulk of Sea Isle’s budget spending.
Last year. Sea Isle had a nearly $2.5 million school budget. That budget continued a trend of stable school taxes for the ninth straight year.
Sea Isle’s expanding ratable base due to its strong real estate market and increasingly upscale homes has largely helped the Board of Education avoid an increase in school taxes for nine straight years, Tumolo said.
At the same time, the beach town’s higher-end real estate market, which is popular for summer vacation homes, is simply too expensive for most young families to afford, Tumolo has repeatedly pointed out in recent years. 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 continued last year, dropping to 81 students compared to 83 in 2019, according to figures released by the Board of Education. The 2020 figure was 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.
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.
Sea Isle is planning to demolish the former school at 4501 Park Road to redevelop the site into a community recreation center. Construction of the estimated $15 million recreation project is expected to begin this year, with completion in spring 2023.