Regionalization » September 26, 2023 Referendum on Regionalization

September 26, 2023 Referendum on Regionalization

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The three Boards of Education (AHES, HES, and HHRS) received the communication posted below at 2:25pm on Sept. 25 from the Commissioner of the Dept of Education.
The Commissioner states "The [July 15, 2022] Petition requests to move forward with a referendum to join a regional school district that does not yet exist" and therefore "Sea Bright’s requested relief is premature. If the referendum passes on September 26, 2023, Sea Bright and the newly formed school district may refile a joint request to form an enlarged regional school district."
Based on questions and feedback from our September information session and Back to School Night Presentations, the financial experts have updated and clarified the financial analysis. Click on the links below to see the most up-to-date information. 
Couldn't attend the Information Fair on September 12, 2023? - Click on the link below to watch the full video of the presentation. 
If you have questions, please contact Dr. Tara Beams [email protected]
Please click on the presentation below to see the information being presented at the September 12, 2023 Information Fair. 
Special Election
September 26, 2023
Polls open 12 - 8:00 pm
Where do I vote:
All Atlantic Highlands residents vote at the Charle J. Hesse Parish Center: 55 South Avenue
Highlands Districts 1&2 vote at the Highlands Fire House: 17-1 Shore Drive
Highlands Districts 3&4 vote at the VFW Post 6902: 331 Bay Avenue


Mail-in ballots must be requested by September 19, 2023


Frequently Asked Questions

UPDATED 9/11/2023

The Special Election:

What is the question that will be put before voters on September 26, 2023?

Shall the Boards of Education of the Highlands School District, Atlantic Highlands School District, and Henry Hudson Regional School District join together to convert Henry Hudson Regional into an all-purpose PK-12 regional school district,  with Atlantic Highlands and Highlands joining as constituent members, with the annual and special appropriations for such a two-constituent PK-12 regional school district to be apportioned upon the following basis:  100 % on each municipality’s equalized valuation allocated to the regional district as provided by state law,  and 0 % on the proportional number of pupils enrolled from each municipality on the 15th day of October of the prebudget year?


Who decides if regionalization happens?

The voters ultimately make the final decision. During the September election, voters from the municipalities of Highlands and Atlantic Highlands will vote. If the vote passes in both towns, regionalization of the three existing school districts into one all-purpose PK-12 district will occur. 


Why is this vote being held during a special election in September? Why not the general election in November?

If regionalization is approved by the voters, school districts are required to begin the process of forming the new district within 30 days of the election, complete this process by June 30, 2024, and have the new district in place by July 1, 2024. There is a great deal of planning and preparation that will need to go into the expansion of the current regional district and the opening of the newly created regional district. The administration, our regionalization experts, the Boards of Education, and the Department of Education all agreed that we need to start this process as early as possible. 


Who pays for the special election?

From N.J. Stat. § 18A:13-47.6: The Department of Education shall reimburse participating districts for any costs incurred to hold an election to establish or enlarge a limited purpose or all-purpose regional district provided that the decision to establish or enlarge a limited purpose or all-purpose regional district stems from the completion of a feasibility study conducted in connection with the grant program established pursuant to section 2 of P.L. 2021, c. 402(C.18A:13-47.2). This means there will not be any additional cost to the towns of Atlantic Highlands or Highlands.


Why don’t the three Boards of Education want Sea Bright to join the new district?

They do! Sea Bright can only join a region that has a PK-12 school district. This first step establishes Henry Hudson as an all-purpose PK-12 district so that they are an official option for Sea Bright. It has always been the intention of the three Boards of Education to welcome the students from Sea Bright if and when the Department of Education approves Sea Bright’s withdrawal from Shore Regional and Oceanport School Districts. At this time, the Department of  Education has only approved the amended petition submitted by the three Boards in March of 2023. The Department of Education has not responded to the petition to include Sea Bright (filed in July 2022).


Why can’t the three Boards of Education just wait and see if the Acting Commissioner eventually approves Sea Bright’s withdrawal and go out for one vote that includes Sea Bright?

To maximize tax savings of which state aid comprises a large part, regionalization must occur for the start of FY24. Under Senate Bill S3488, P.L. 2021, c. 402, districts that utilized a L.E.A.P. grant and successfully regionalized are entitled to state aid benefits. Over the last 10 years, both HES and HHRS collectively have lost more than $650,000 in state aid. In order to stabilize and recalculate state aid, districts must have successfully regionalized within three years from the date that the districts received a L.E.A.P. grant. This means that in order for the new regional district to stabilize state aid and bring in a projected $650,000 in savings from state aid over the next five years, we must successfully begin the process of regionalization before May 2024. In addition, the three districts can begin experiencing operational efficiencies, streamlined governance, and eliminating redundant services and costs immediately, which will improve overall operations and lead to greater fiscal responsibility and possible savings for taxpayers.


General Regionalization Questions:

Where can I find a copy of the feasibility study that outlines the benefits of regionalization?

The feasibility study commissioned by the three Boards and funded by the L.E.A.P grant program can be found by CLICKING HERE. The supplement to the study which was submitted with the amended petition in March 2023 can be found by CLICKING HERE.

What is the rationale for the three districts to regionalize? Aren’t we already one district?
While it may seem to some that we are already one “Tri-District”, the “Tri-District” operates as three separate and distinct school districts each with its own Board of Education, school budget,  grants and finances, separate staff and collective bargaining agreements, and separate contracts with vendors and professional services. Over the last 15 years, the “Tri-District” has maximized shared services to the best of its ability. However, there are governance and operational constraints and limitations that have made it very difficult to get the most efficiency,  continuity, productivity, and cost savings from the current structure. Regionalizing would allow the three districts to truly operate as one, as the separate Boards of Education would be merged into one! The shared central office staff would operate under one governance structure of 9  Board members as opposed to 3 governance structures of 25 Board members, creating efficiency and productivity by not having to repeat the same tasks in triplicate. Operationally,  the districts would fall under one financial structure, remove redundant services and processes and be able to create staffing structures, programming, and continuity for staff and students that we are currently unable to do. The efficiencies would allow for the administration to improve all aspects of the school district while working under a single governance structure that will make decisions for a student entering PK all the way until they graduate from high school. 


Does regionalization create a brand-new district? What happens to the current districts?

The current Henry Hudson Regional District will have its purpose expanded from 7-12 to include PK-12. This will now be the new district, which will include all students PK-12 from  Highlands and Atlantic Highlands. The separate districts that govern AHES and HES will be dissolved although the elementary schools themselves will continue to operate and serve their local PK-6 students and families.


If regionalization is successful, can other towns join the expanded PK-12 district?

Yes, although this would take time and need to have voters’ support. Interested towns/school districts would need to conduct feasibility studies of their own before bringing the issue to a  vote, and this could take years. Regionalizing Atlantic Highlands, Highlands, and Henry Hudson is relatively simple as this will not disrupt the day-to-day operations of the school but would benefit the schools' governance by having one board of education. The recent L.E.A.P. studies'  findings indicate that including Sea Bright post-regionalization is more feasible at this time than other districts due to existing school districting and geography.


If regionalization is successful, what is the process for the Boards of Education?

If the voters support regionalization, current Board members at HHRS, HES, and AHES and any Board members elected in the November 2023 election, would continue to serve until June 30, 2024. An interim Regional Board comprised of 3 members from each current board – 3 from the AHES Board, 3 from the HES Board, and 3 from the HHRS Board (2 members from Highlands and 1 member from Atlantic Highlands) – would continue until the election of members of the Board of Education of the newly formed regional district, which would occur at the 2024 annual school election. The newly elected regional Board of Education members would begin in January 2025.


Financial Impact:

How are taxes currently collected for the three separate districts?

Currently, residents in Atlantic Highlands and Highlands pay school taxes for either AHES or
HES and then a portion of the taxes to HHRS. HHRS is a regional school district and the tax
apportionment is a function of a proportionate share of the equalized property values of HES and AHES calculated by their respective enrollments.


What are the financial benefits of regionalization?

By regionalizing, there will be immediate financial benefits by eliminating redundant costs for professional services, redundant contracts, and some consolidation of non-instructional staff. In addition, if regionalization is approved, the new district will have a re-calculated state aid figure based on the highest amount of state aid, which will bring approximately $700,000 back into the districts over the next 10 years. The new district will pool and utilize grant money more efficiently over the years which will equate to overall cost savings. Additionally, with more efficiencies, come more cost-savings that we have not even begun to realize.


What will the tax apportionment be in the new district?

The tax apportionment formula approved by the Department of Education is the existing apportionment which is based on 0% enrollment and 100% equalized valuation.


Will my taxes go up if we regionalize?

While the goal of regionalizing the three school districts has never been solely about tax savings, with efficiencies comes cost-savings which is a benefit to taxpayers. Any tax savings projected at this time are based on current operating budgets with an annual 2%  increase. The projections do take into account the projected new state aid and some consolidation savings. However, additional cost savings after regionalization such as increases in grant funding, ongoing streamlining and elimination of services/costs, etc. will result in further savings. 


As outlined in the financial portion of the feasibility study completed by the three Boards of  Education, there is minimal tax savings, with total net savings for both municipalities of approximately $400,000 per year as compared to the status quo. The financial experts contracted by the Board of Education recommend a savings-sharing agreement reached between the municipalities of Highlands and Atlantic Highlands so that there is no negative tax impact at any time. Without a savings sharing agreement between the municipalities and based on projections, Highlands will see a steady decrease in their taxes compared to the status quo with an average projected savings of $52 per $100,000 of assessed value from the 24-25 school year to the 33-34 school year, which is an average of approximately $179 less per year on a home valued at $343,454.00. Atlantic Highlands is projected to possibly see a small increase in their taxes with an average projected increase of $17.60 per $100,000 of assessed value, which is an average increase of approximately $99 per year on a home valued at $558,044. The chart below was used to determine the tax impact on the average residential property valued in each municipality. 

 Tax Chart

Why would I vote for something that may increase taxes in Atlantic Highlands?

While the current model shows a very small increase in taxes annually for Atlantic Highlands, the efficiencies in governance, operations, programming and the district’s ability to reduce operational costs and make more fiscally responsible decisions on behalf of taxpayers makes regionalization desirable. The model above is created with no modifications to current operating budgets with a 2% increase each year. With administration managing one total budget, taking advantage of larger pools of students and staff for purchasing, grants, and other financial resources, and by streamlining operations, additional savings may be realized which may negate any tax increases and even provide for greater tax savings over time.

Impact on Students & Staff:

What is the impact on students if the districts regionalize?

Our students will probably not even realize anything has changed. Our elementary schools will still operate as community schools and Henry Hudson will still serve our middle and high school students. Teaching and support staffing will remain stable and consistent and, since we already share curricula, the students will not really notice that anything has changed.


Will the schools and grade levels be reconfigured?

Initially, everything will remain as is. AHES and HES will both operate as PK-6 buildings and HHRS  will serve our students in grades 7 – 12.  Once regionalization is complete, the administration may review the current configuration, and, if feasible, would present any recommendations to the newly formed  Board of Education. This is not an immediate consideration.


Will grade 6 be moved to Henry Hudson?

There are many social and academic benefits to moving grade 6 into the middle school structure of Henry Hudson. Academic standards, curricula, materials/resources, and learning outcomes are aligned to grades 6-8 and, from an educational perspective, grade 6 is better aligned with grades 7-8 than grades PK-5. Many of the social and emotional needs of our students would also be better served by them being in a middle school environment so that they can have a broader range of clubs, activities, electives, and more rigorous course offerings. In addition, our students participating in athletics will have a better connection with their teammates, coaches and the overall middle school experience. Having said all of this, moving the grade level will take some planning on logistics, staffing, scheduling, etc. Therefore, this will be something investigated by the administrative team after the regional district has been established and probably would not be decided for several school years once regionalization is complete.


What happens to our existing staff? Are there going to be massive cuts or reductions?

Similar to our students, we anticipate our existing staff will continue to remain employed. They do not lose their tenure status or seniority, and we will still need the current staffing models to run the schools as we do now. There may be some changes to responsibilities, redundant positions over time, or sharing of staff as we continue to explore regionalization and better understand all of the efficiencies of the all-purpose district. 


What are the expected educational benefits?

Here are some of the immediate benefits. (and even MORE will be realized once all three districts are merged):

  • Allow for greater operational efficiencies by eliminating the duplication and, most often, triplication of services, governance, decision-making, productivity, and costs. 
  • Greater continuity and equity in services, programming, instruction, curriculum, and resources for students from PK-12. With one structure, the full focus for strategic planning, resource management, programming, etc. will be on a student’s entire educational journey from PK-12. 
  • With an easier process to share staff, share programming, and facilities, and sharing of contracts and resources, we will be better able to create specialized programs in both general and special education to meet all of our students’ needs. This should result in better outcomes for students and could reduce out-of-district placement costs and keep more students in our districts.
  • Greater opportunity for staff development and growth, leadership opportunities, sharing of specialized staff, and consistency in procedures, with the consolidation of collective bargaining agreements and alignment of schedules, policies, and leadership
  • Alignment and sharing of resources and services that would enable the regional district to respond to future challenges.
  • By formalizing the existing efficiencies of shared services and providing increased efficiency in governance and operations through this requested regionalization, we are removing barriers that have impeded common-sense educational planning, growth, and development practices that will greatly benefit the students, staff, and community of all members of the new regional school district.


What are the detriments of regionalization?
  • There will be some loss of autonomy with the dissolution of the Atlantic Highlands and  Highlands Boards of Education. 
  • The newly created PK-12 Regional Board will need to commit effort and resources to assume control of the educational facilities, engage with existing vendors and contractors, restructure contracts, and the collective bargaining agreements with the employees’ unions. 
  • There may be some need to relocate and/or transfer certain staff, although this is expected to be relatively minor.
What happens if the vote fails?

If the referendum does not pass, the three Boards of Education would have to decide if they would like to go out to vote again on this subject. As per statute, all referendum votes would need to be approved by the Commissioner of Education. Therefore, the districts would need to update any information related to the feasibility study associated with the referendum and petition the Department of Education to approve a new referendum. From a district standpoint, the current structures (governance, operational, contractual, financial, human resources, etc.) would remain the same and the districts would continue to operate in the status quo.

Thank you for reading through these FAQs! Still have more questions? Contact Dr. Beams [email protected].


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